Buffalo - September 3, 2014 - Recently, there was an interesting tweet from Ryan Pyette of the London (Ontario) Free Press regarding Buffalo Sabres prospect Nikita Zadorov:
Dale Hunter on Horvat, Zadorov, Domi: "They (their NHL teams) have them pegged in to play (this year). That's great for them."
— Ryan Pyette (@RyanatLFPress) August 15, 2014
The interesting part isn’t regarding Max Domi or Bo Horvat. Those guys are likely to be given every opportunity to make their respective teams out of training camps and take a run at the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year this season.
No, the interesting part is about Zadorov. Many, yours truly included, didn’t think there was any chance the 19-year-old would make the Sabres’ roster out of camp. That mostly has to do with not only the Sabres’ drive to land in the top two of the 2015 NHL Draft, where major prizes Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid await, but the team’s patience in regards to its prospects. The last thing the team wants to do is to rush any one of these talented youngsters into the lineup and set them up for failure. There’s already a concern that the highly-touted Mikhail Grigorenko may already be damaged goods, they certainly don’t want to put Zadorov or any other of their top prospects in a similar position.
Still, Zadorov has already shown impressive development. As an 18-year-old last year, he played well enough during the rookie camp and preseason to stick with the Sabres for seven games during the 2013/14 season, potting his first career NHL goal and a minus-4 before being sent back to his junior team in London.
This year, it will be the same scenario: if the imposing 6’5” defenseman can’t make the team for the long-term, he’ll be sent back to the OHL’s Knights as he’s still too young to be sent down to Rochester of the AHL (teams can’t send 18- and 19-year-olds to the AHL).
Zadorov will be one to watch out of camp, if only to see how far he’s come. At 6’5” 230, he’s physically ready for the NHL and could no doubt step in and be one of the Sabres’ most physical defenders right out of the gate. He’s a strong skater and showing a burgeoning offensive game, but he’s still young and rough around the edges. Unless he blows the doors off in camp, expect him to spend another year trouncing kids his own age in the OHL before getting a long, serious look in camp prior to the 2015/16 season.
The future appears to be bright for Zadorov and the Sabres are in no rush to bring his bash-and-smash game to the NHL until he (and the rest of the Sabres’ youth movement) is ready to stay in Buffalo for good.
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