On Friday morning, the Calgary Flames announced that they had signed defenceman Nikita Zadorov to a one-year, $3.75 million deal. This didn’t come as a surprise, of course, given that they had acquired his rights from the Chicago Blackhawks on the opening day of free agency, giving up a third-round pick in 2022 for the 26-year-old.
To this point in his NHL career, Zadorov has been a tricky player to get a read on. While he is a former first-round pick, he isn’t a player you can count on for much offensively. Instead, he is known mainly for his physicality. Throughout his 411 games in the NHL, he has often been an inconsistent player, making it somewhat of a question mark as to what the Flames will be getting from him this upcoming season.
Despite the inconsistencies, there are plenty of things to like about Zadorov as a player. The first thing that sticks out when watching him is his size, as he stands at a hulking 6-foot-6, 235 pounds. Throughout his career, he has thrown many highlight-worthy body checks, and is clearly not afraid to throw his weight around.
His physical presence makes him very intimidating for opposing teams to play against, and to his defence he is able to keep his hits clean, and as a result has not been suspended once by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
He is also capable of playing on the penalty kill, and was used on the Blackhawks second unit when down a man throughout the entire 2020-21 season. He will likely see some time on the Flames’ penalty kill under head coach Darryl Sutter, and his ability to block shots (74 last season) should make him quite valuable in that role.
Last season, Zadorov averaged 19:12 minutes in ice time per game last season, which ranked fifth amongst all Blackhawks skaters. Of the 19:12 averaged, 17:24 came at even strength, which was good enough for fourth on his team. This proves that the Blackhawks’ coaching staff trusted him in a second-pairing role last season, which is good news for the Flames who are doing their best to overcome the loss of former team captain Mark Giordano.
While there are some things to like about Zadorov, there are some concerns regarding his game as well. As proven by his eight points in 55 games last season, there is not much to marvel at when it comes to his offensive game. In fact, he has hit 20 points just once in his career. Offence certainly isn’t everything, but to replace the void left by Giordano, the Flames will need other blueliners to step up in that regard as Zadorov won’t be the one to.
Another concern that has been noted in his game is that he is not a great skater. This has led to him getting caught out of position in the past, particularly when he tries to throw hits, as he can sometimes struggle to get back in the play afterwards. In order to be effective for the Flames, he may be best to try and tone down his physical play a touch in order to maintain solid defensive play, which he lacked at times in the 2020-21 season, proven by the chart below.
As JFresh mentions, he also tends to take a lot of penalties. This is an issue for multiple reasons. One is that his lack of discipline often puts his team on the penalty kill. The second is that he could very well be one of the Flames’ penalty killers, meaning someone else would be tasked with filling his role if he is the one in the box.
Little Risk Associated
One thing many were quick to note about this contract is that it is just a one-year deal, which strikes some as odd given that it will walk him straight to free agency next season. While this is true, it is likely that general manager Brad Treliving wants to see what he has in the player before committing to him longer term, and in turn could be Zadorov wanting to get to know the city and team before he signs for longer term.
The important thing to note here is that Zadorov only cost the Flames a third-round pick, which teams give out all the time to rental players at the trade deadline. Instead of having to adjust to a team in such a short time, Zadorov has the entire season to get to know the group and fit in, which makes getting him in the summer much more beneficial. While it remains to be seen whether he works out in Calgary, there was little to no risk in acquiring him.
Colton Pankiw is a former Jr. A hockey player who now provides his knowledge of the game through writing. He’s been a very active and reliable source for nearly two years at The Hockey Writers. He is a credentialed writer for the Calgary Flames but also does features on other teams throughout the league. Other writing contributions include: Yahoo Sports, Las Vegas Chronicle, Oil On Whyte, and Markerzone.com. Colton is also a co-host of both Oilers Overtime and Flames Faceoff podcasts. Any interview requests or content info can be made through him on Twitter. Take a look at his work here.