Change on the Blue Line: A Glimpse Into the Future

The Sabres are on a three game winning streak and starting to play better hockey.  Head Coach Ted Nolan recently made a change on the Sabres blue line and Buffalo started to show positive signs.  The change I’m referring to is the inserting of Nikita Zadorov into the lineup and teaming him up with fellow 1st round pick Rasmus Ristolainen.  Since the two have begun patrolling the blue line as a pair, the Sabres have started to clean up their own end.

Early Season Dilemma

Through the first 12 games of the season, Zadorov was only able to get into the lineup one time.  According to coach Ted Nolan the Sabres spent the first month

Nikita Zadorov
 (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

of the season working Zadorov into “game shape”.  The Sabres believed that they needed to put Zadorov through some hard work in practice and show him how to be a professional.  The young Russian defenseman most certainly has the attitude he needs to be an NHL player, but coming into camp didn’t know the conditioning he needed to be at.  Sabres captain Brian Gionta worked with Zadorov off the ice to show him what he needed to do to be an every night player in this league.

Many fans wondered what the Sabres were doing by keeping Zadorov in Buffalo not playing, instead of sending him back to London of the OHL.  However it appears that it wasn’t as easy as it seemed.  General Manager Tim Murray feared a contract dispute between the OHL and KHL may have resulted in Zadorov reporting to the club that owns his rights in the KHL, St. Petersburg.  Without a release from his contract by St. Petersburg, Zadorov would of been forced to report to the KHL.  St. Petersburg made it clear to the Sabres that they would not release him for the second straight season.  Mention the three letters K-H-L in the Sabres facility and staff members will start to shutter.  Buffalo was left with no option other than to work with the 19 year old blue liner.

Top Pair of the Future

Both Zadorov and Ristolainen were taken in the first round of the 2013 NHL draft.  Ristolainen was taken 8th overall, while Zadorov was taken 16th overall.  Both young defenseman are big bodies who can also produce in the offensive zone.  Zadorov measures up at 6’5 220 lbs. and Risolainen weighs in at 6’4 219 lbs.; the size and skating of these two young defenseman allow them to thrive at the NHL level.  Both defenders are not afraid to the throw their body around and be a physical force out on the ice.  The similarities continue as the two former first round picks play with a no fear attitude and great confidence.

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In the six games the two have played as a pair they’ve only been a minus in one game.  Zadorov is the only defenseman who is a plus player in his ten games played at a +5.

The maturity and growth of these two defenseman have given Sabres fans a glimpse into what the future may hold on the blue line.  The ice time for these two player continues to rise as they play between 16-20 minutes a game.  Ristolainen and Zadorov may become the top pair for the Sabres by the end of the season in only their second professional year.