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Nikita Zadorov is a key piece to the Avalanches blue-line puzzle
16 2016 .  The Denver Post.

A year ago on the first day of Avalanche training camp, newly acquired young defenseman Nikita Zadorov was asked if he had any doubts on making the opening-night roster and playing the entire season in the NHL. The big Russian didnt like the question, despite being just 20 years old and in the middle of his two-way, entry-level contract. He felt disrespected.

Zadorov, who made the opening-night roster but played most of the season for Colorados American Hockey League affiliate in San Antonio, laughed about the year-old exchange Friday after the Avs first rookie camp practice.

Even after I got drafted, my first year in Buffalo and I was 18 years old, I was positive I was making the team, Zadorov said. Thats always my goal, to be confident and bring that confidence on the ice. I believe in myself.

Zadorov, listed at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, played 52 games for San Antonio but finished last season with the Avs, playing 22 games total. Hes a key piece to this seasons blue-line puzzle for the Avalanche. It was somewhat surprising to see his name on the rookie camp roster, given that he has played 89 career NHL games, including 60 with Buffalo in 2014-15.

Among the 25 players at rookie camp, Zadorov, defenseman Chris Bigras and forward Mikko Rantanen are the only ones with NHL experience.

Im always happy to get on the ice, and its actually (partly) my decision to be here, Zadorov said. I wanted to start skating earlier and I get to play some games to be more prepared for the main camp. So Im happy.

The Avs (so-called) rookies play their peers from the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, in a showcase at the Ice Centre at the Promenade in Westminster. Based on Fridays practice, Zadorov will partner with defenseman Anton Lindholm and play a point on the power play with Bigras and forwards Rantanen, A.J. Greer and J.T. Compher.

Rantanen, the Avs first-round pick in 2015, is expected to vie for an opening-night spot at age 19. He and Zadorov had considerable success together with the Rampage of San Antonio last season. Rantanen was the second-youngest AHL all-star in the leagues 80 years and Zadorov played major minutes in producing 10 goals and 29 points.

Mikko, bunch of skill more than anyone else in this room, Zadorov said. I played with him all the time last year in San Antonio. Here, hopefully, well make the team and be together.

Zadorov speaks English flawlessly but he still often uses his native tongue around the Avalanche. Before last season, goalie Semyon Varlamov was the teams only Russian. But Zadorov and forward Mikhail Grigorenko came over from Buffalo in the 2015 trade and the Avs signed free-agent defenseman Fedor Tyutin in July. Young defenseman Sergei Boikov is coming up through the system and could potentially give the Avs five Russians.

Its almost a Russian organization, Zadorov said with a grin. A couple more and its going to be great. Five, man! 

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