Despite a freak leg injury ending his season early last year, Nikita Zadorov had a coming out party last season. No, his coming out party didn’t show up on the score sheet, in fact, big Z is still looking to collect that first Avalanche goal. But Zadorov arrived as a presence on the Avalanche’s blue line (Just ask Mark Scheifele). With big hits and growing defensive awareness, Zadorov will be looking to grow his role with the Avalanche. But how much ice time will the Russian get this season.
Over/Under: 22 minutes a game
Case for Over: Zadorov proved he was ready for top-4 NHL work before he went down for the season last year. His ability to deliver punishing hits had coach Bednar running him out there well over 20 minutes a game. Now, the Avalanche blue line is thinner than ever. The Avs may not have a choice other than running him and Erik Johnson out there 25-30 minutes a game.
Case for Under: While Zadorov may have racked up minutes before his injury last year, he did so while the Avs’ top defenseman, Erik Johnson was injured. Johnson is back now and Zadorov has to recover from his own injury. Mix in some strong defensive prospects like Chris Bigras and Andrei Mironov fighting for NHL time, and Zadorov may have his work cut out for him.
Prediction: Over. With veterans like Beauchemin and Tyutin out of the mix, Zadorov is the clear cut favorite to play along Johnson on the top pairing. With not much else on the blue line past those two, you can expect Zadorov and Johnson both to each up well over 25 minutes a game. Zadorov may not have earned that big contract yet, but he will be working toward it this coming season.