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Colorado Avalanche Top 25 Under 25 Number 8: Nikita Zadorov

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He’s known for the Zmashes but is there more to Zadorov’s game?

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Colorado Avalanche at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Mile High Hockey community. Eight writers and 320 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2018 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 has been a polarizing yet very likable player for the Colorado Avalanche ever since arriving from the Buffalo Sabres in the Ryan O’Reilly trade. In the four years since that transaction on the draft floor in 2015 Zadorov has become a mainstay on the blue line in Colorado even if his role has fluctuated.

In the 2018-19 season Zadorov saw the lowest amount of even strength time on ice in his career partnered most frequently with Patrik Nemeth on the third pair. Those numbers dipped to 15:26 per game with a decreased number of penalty kill minutes at 1:40 per game but also saw his effectiveness increase in his corsi for percentage hit new highs at 49.7% and his individual shots per 60 climbed to 5.27. Zadorov’s value has always emerged in the playoffs where he clocked in at 17.22 even strength minutes per game mostly paired with Tyson Barrie and speaks to his versatility as a player.

A large part of Zadorov’s game exists within his 6-foot-5 and 230 lbs frame as he uses his imposing stature to intimidate opposing players. After leading the NHL in hits with 278 in 2017-18 Zadorov saw a decrease the following year to 228 which still led the Avalanche by almost double. With that physicality also comes penalties and Zadorov has worked to decrease from 103 the previous year to 75 in 2018-19. Within that total Zadorov only picked up three fighting majors as he does not seek out to start trouble but more it finds him as retaliation on one of those most often clean hits.

What has eluded Zadorov in his six-year NHL career thus far has been scoring and consistency in general. After it took Zadorov over two years with the Avalanche to find the back of the net he has now posted seven goals in back-to-back seasons. However his point total decreased from 20 in 2017-18 to 14 in the most recent year. Zadorov sees very little power play time in Colorado so it is unlikely he will boost those totals significantly in the future but getting back to 20 points consistently is an appropriate target and will help the team generate more offense through the lineup.

After the 2018-18 season and playoff run Zadorov was able to join the Russian National Team for the IIHF World Championship tournament for the first time in his career. There he posted an assist in nine games en route to winning a bronze medal. Despite making it to the second round of the playoffs Zadorov was eager to join the team as he was healthy unlike in previous years.

This summer the Avalanche chose to give Zadorov a sizable raise from $2.2 million to $3.2 million but with only a one year term. The deal avoided any arbitration filing and was one of the first orders of business concluded in the off-season but will need revisiting next summer. Decisions are looming on Zadorov’s long term future as he is three years away from unrestricted free agency and the Seattle expansion draft is in summer of 2021. After the organization so quickly made a hefty long-term commitment to Sam Girard it is fair to wonder what the hesitation is on locking up Zadorov and if he will remain long term in Colorado.

Opinions are split on the value that Zadorov brings. The readers and I were in agreement that he belongs on the upper end of Avalanche roster mainstays but others see more question marks. Zadorov fell two spots from last year’s ranking mostly due to the addition of more talent in the organization such as Bowen Byram and Alex Newhook but others see more contributions from players such as J.T. Compher.

This coming season Zadorov has the opportunity to take on a larger role and find himself one of the more senior members on the Avalanche blue line with almost 300 NHL games under his belt. Considering Tyson Barrie’s departure and Ian Cole’s injury uncertainty Zadorov will be leaned on especially and could potentially pair with Cale Makar at times. Zadorov is frustrating and leaves wanting more on occasion but he really is an important piece of the Avalanche who fills a variety of needs.