Buffalo - August 7, 2014 - We’re still about two months out from actual NHL hockey (the horror!), so there’s still a lot of time and boredom left to deal with.
As a Sabres fan, there isn’t a ton to look forward to even when the season starts. Instead, the eye is constantly towards the future. Everyone knows the Sabres aren’t winning any time soon, but the good part of being so bad is that they have a plethora of talented youngsters who will theoretically turn the Sabres into a Stanley Cup contender for many years to come.
We've already covered other top prospects Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen. Today, we’ll take a look at the top prospects in the Sabres system and all of the dirty details on each, continuing today with another former first round pick and “physically elite” defenseman: Nikita Zadorov.
How we got him: Aside from having the eighth overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, the Sabres also had the 16th pick, using it on Zadorov. They acquired that pick from the Minnesota Wild in the Jason Pominville deal, coming back with Johan Larsson, Josh Hackett and another pick. It was one of the first trades in the full-force rebuilding effort under the Darcy Regier regime and one of the big building blocks to come back Buffalo’s way.
Comparable Sabre of the Past: Jerry Korab. If Zadorov hits his ceiling, being Korab isn’t bad for a comparison. Both are big and, though Zadorov may not have the offensive abilities Korab did in the 1970s, it seems as though they’ll be similar in terms of their physical games. “King Kong” was a big, physical force for the Sabres in his day and the Sabres hope they’ve found the same type of player in the big Russian.
Why he may be awesome: Let’s start with what he was drafted for: his physical game. The 6’5”, 230 Zadorov was classified as “physically elite” coming into his draft year, meaning he was smearing kids in junior and loving it. The Sabres haven’t had that kind of presence on the blueline in years their initiative to add toughness got the right kind of guy for that.
Offensively, he’s shown flashes and possesses a heavy shot from the point. He’s still new-ish to the North American game and is still figuring himself out as a player, but the potential is there to be a complete defenseman.
On the low end, he seems like he can be that big, physical crease-clearing defenseman that so many teams covet; the defensively responsible one of a top-end pairing.
Why he may not be so great: Well, again, he’s still figuring out what kind of player he is here on North American ice. He sometimes let his physical game dominate the rest of his game, taking himself out of position to make the crushing hit when he would be more effective making the less spectacular, but smarter play.
His offensive game may never really come around. While that would be okay, getting extra offense from the point is something all teams will definitely take and would prefer to get out of Zadorov.
Ceiling: High. He’s not quite on the “sure thing” level that Rasmus Ristolainen is, but he’s got the potential to be a special player in the NHL. He’s big, mean and just starting to figure things out offensively. On the low end, he could end up being a formidable stay-at-home defenseman who crushes everyone along the wall or in front.
General excitement level: Moderate-high. He’s still got a long way to go, but the size/skill combo is certainly tantalizing. I’m less concerned about him finding his offensive game than I am him honing his mean streak to responsible levels and becoming a defensive force.
What to expect: The blueline is deep with veteran top-six types and prospects ready to at least start challenging for spots in Buffalo. Zadorov will be given another year in junior before graduating to the AHL for some additional seasoning. It will likely be another two or three years before we start to see the big Russian in Buffalo on a regular basis.
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