It looks like the Toronto Maple Leafs are already preparing for the offseason already. According to Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, the Leafs will sign Russian defenseman Nikita Zaitsev for next season.
Hearing Russian free-agent D Nikita Zaitsev is telling teams his intention is to sign with TOR next season. Would be a one-year ELC.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) January 22, 2016
There was talk of Zaitsev this previous off-season as well. There was interest not just from the Maple Leafs, but other teams including the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings. Those are pretty good teams, so for Zaitsev to apparently choose the Leafs in their rebuilding years is a potential coup. Zaitsev was quoted in the offseason, say this…
“I can’t sign anything now but I visited the Leafs and was pleasantly shocked by the reception… I visited the Leafs office and the arena, locker-room, talked to GM and the head coach and was very impressed… the Leafs were the only team that had a real big interest in me. I did some tests during the visit… I want to leave the KHL as a winner and I’ll spend the year in Russia to be absolutely prepared for the NHL”
Zaitsev is an offensive defenseman that has led the blueliners on his team, CSKA Moscow, in points the past three
seasons. This season, he has scored six goals and recorded 18 assists for a total of 24 points in 40 games so far. What might be the most import aspect that he brings is the fact he is a right-handed shot. The only Leafs right-handed defensemen that is regularly in the lineup is Roman Polak, and he is likely to be traded before the season is over. Frankie Corrado and Stephane Robidas are also righties, but are either rarely in the lineup (Corrado) or injured (Robidas). He went undrafted in the NHL but was taken by HC Sibir with the fourth overall pick in the 2009 KHL Junior Draft.
The Leafs are seemingly getting back into the game of taking chances on players from overseas. While Petri Kontiola didn’t work out, Nikita Soshnikov is one the better players for the Toronto Marlies this season and could get a chance with the Leafs next season. However, maybe what the Leafs are doing is trying to corner the market on players named Nikita. They already have Soshnikov and they drafted Nikita Korostelev in the seventh round of the 2015 NHL Draft.
With the proposed deal only being for one-year, there would be little risk to the Leafs. If he didn’t work out, they could pretty much terminate the contract if he wanted to go back to the KHL. If he does, they could sign him to long-term deal. I would say the odds are good that he performs well. He is 24-years old so he would fit in to the age group the Leafs are looking for.
What do you think? If he does indeed sign with the Leafs, would you like it?