Although general manager Brad Treliving and the Calgary Flames couldn’t make many significant changes like the fanbase hoped for, there will still be many new faces on the roster for the 2021-22 season. One of those new faces is Nikita Zadorov. The 26-year-old blueliner was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this offseason for a 2022 third-round pick.
While Zadorov is by no means a perfect defenceman, he has several tools and should be a useful option on the left side for the Flames this season. With the loss of Mark Giordano, he will likely be relied upon, at least early on, in a top-four role. Thankfully, this isn’t new territory for him, as he was primarily used in the Blackhawks’ top four last season.
Zadorov’s Candid Media Availibility
On Friday, well-known Flames reporter Eric Francis seemed to suggest that the team’s new defenceman played on Blackhawks bottom pair in 2020-21. In a media session, he asked Zadorov what his thoughts were on playing a top-four role after not doing so last season. The Russian blueliner didn’t seem too amused by the question.
“Well, I played top four last year,” Zadorov responded. “Do you guys watch hockey at all? I played top four for 80% of the games. I’m open for the challenge.”
Clearly, Zadorov is extremely confident in his abilities and doesn’t care what the media thinks of him. This is somewhat refreshing for fans, as players throughout the NHL often are robotic when talking to the press and don’t tend to show their personalities. Zadorov isn’t like that. He doesn’t have any issues saying what’s on his mind and is one of the better quotes in the entire league.
It will be interesting to see the relationship between Francis and Zadorov after these comments, as the Sportsnet employee is known to have players on the team who he is not afraid to criticize regularly. The best example of this is Johnny Gaudreau, who has been involved in constant trade rumors the past few seasons, in large part due to Francis suggesting so on numerous occasions. If he is not a fan of a player, he is not afraid to let that be known. It will be interesting to see how he will judge Zadorov after this.
Zadorov’s Top-4 Ability
Zadorov’s claim that he was often used as a top-four defenseman in Chicago last season is undoubtedly correct. In 55 games played last season, he averaged 19:12 minutes in ice time per game. This ranked third amongst all Blackhawks blueliners, trailing only Duncan Keith and Connor Murphy. He also averaged 17:24 minutes in even-strength ice time per game, which only trailed Keith and Murphy again.
While he received almost zero time on the power play last season, playing only 2:12 on the man advantage all year, he was relied upon often on the penalty kill, manning the second unit with Calvin de Haan while averaging just under two minutes a game doing so.
This is a role that Zadorov will likely be counted on with the Flames as well. If that is the case, he will look to improve a penalty kill that was quite average last season, finishing 15th out of 31 teams with an 80.2% success rate. He may very well play on their top penalty kill unit alongside Chris Tanev, a spot that was previously occupied by Giordano.
Interesting & Exciting Character
As my colleague Greg Tysowski mentioned in an article in August, the Flames will continue to use Tanev and Noah Hanifin as their top pair this upcoming season, one who performed very well in 2020-21. There is an opening on the left-hand side on the second pair, which Zadorov will more than likely play on, alongside Rasmus Andersson. He won’t provide nearly the same offense as Giordano but will bring a physicality edge on the backend that the Flames haven’t had in a long time. If he can play like management hopes, he could become a fan favorite due to his style of play mixed with his outgoing personality.