The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey writing staff. Our writers, plus a special vote from the readers, ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2017 in the Colorado Avalanche organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked.
Nikita Zadorov. You may know him from bullying the Winnipeg Jets’ Mark Scheifele.
Or maybe from destroying the Anaheim Ducks’ Corey Perry.
Or maybe you know him from the contract issues between him and the Colorado Avalanche front office. If not, you will know who he is after watching a game he is playing in. The 6’5, 230lb Russian defender is just so much fun to watch. He was drafted 16th overall by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2013 NHL Draft and acquired by the Avalanche in the trade that saw himself, along with Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher, and the 31st pick in the 2015 Draft moving to Colorado in exchange for Ryan O’Reilly and Jamie McGinn.
Zadorov has left an interesting road to the NHL carved behind him. He played in the highest level of junior hockey in his home country, the MHL. After a season there, he was selected 4th overall in the KHL Junior Draft. While he could have elected to go the KHL route in his pursuit of a pro hockey career, Zadorov, instead, made it known that he wanted to play in the NHL. The London Knights then traded up to draft him in the 2012 CHL Import Draft, 9th overall. He earned top minutes with the Knights that eventually led himself and the rest of his team to a J. Ross Robertson Cup, awarded to the OHL Champions. After being signed to a three-year, entry-level contract he appeared in 7 games for the Sabres before being returned to the London Knights for the rest of the season. After a strong training camp the year after, he made the opening night roster, still only playing limited minutes, though, as he was too young to be sent down to the AHL and a strange mix up with his KHL rights prevented a return to the London Knights.
As strange and amusing his career has been thus far, he has found a home on the Avalanche blueline. His first season with the Avs, mainly being used as an AHL call up, he showed flashes of brilliance. One could definitely tell the pieces were there, he just needed to put them together, as he still made a few very obvious blunders. As bleak as this past season was, Zadorov and his emergence as a true NHL caliber defenseman was one of the bright spots. He was exciting. He made smart plays and was smooth while moving the puck. Things were starting to look up for the Avalanche, as Erik Johnson was looking to make his return from a broken leg to bolster the defense. And then Zadorov fractured his ankle in practice and ended his season. There was a chance that he could have returned for the playoffs, but by the time the decision came, the Avs were way out of a top-8 spot and Zadorov decided to shut down, rest, heal, and get prepared for training camp.
If you have never seen Zadorov play, he is one of the best at using his size to his advantage. Sure, there are players just as big as he is who are able to move more swiftly and whatnot, but Zadorov actually uses his body. It is just plain impossible to move through or around him on the boards compared to some other guys. He seeks out the big hits and most of them are undoubtedly clean, unlike his Russian Bash Brother counterpart, Andrei Mironov, who will be looking to make the Avalanche come training camp in September. Similar to Mironov, though, his offensive production leaves a lot to be desired. One would believe, after seeing his height and strength, Zadorov’s slapshot from the point would be a weapon in his toolset, but with 0 goals and 12 assists for the Avalanche in the 78 games he has played, it is apparent that it is not up to speed just yet. If he can learn to use his big shot and continue to improve his defensive game, Zadorov can develop into a solid 2-3 defender for the future.
There seems to be a divide between Zadorov and the Colorado Avalanche, though. He is currently a Restricted Free Agent, meaning he is not free to sign with whichever team he pleases. Early on in negotiations, Zadorov made it known that if he and the Avs could not come to an agreement, he would play in the KHL. Those rumors have mostly been dispelled and there is almost no chance he is not playing for the Colorado Avalanche this season. Both sides have made it apparent that they want to play ball with each other. Both the organization and the player are looking for a bridge deal, a “prove it” contract, if you will. A 2-year term has been agreed upon. The issue is money. Rumor has it that the Avs were offering an AAV of $2 million for 2 years while the Zadorov camp is looking for closer to an AAV of $2.5 million for 2 years. They will likely meet somewhere in the middle down the road (hopefully sooner rather than later).
Contract issues or not, it is apparent Nikita Zadorov is a large part of the building blocks that will work to make this team competitive in the future, along with Mikko Rantanen, Cale Makar, Tyson Jost, and Nathan MacKinnon.