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Rambler's Top100

At 21, Nikita Zadorov learning on the job with Avalanche sometimes the hard way
28 2016 .  The Denver Post.
By TERRY FREI

Erik Johnson, the Avalanches best defenseman who also is a mainstay on special teams and averages 22 minutes of ice time, suffered a broken fibula against Dallas on Dec. 3. That was in the final game of an 0-4-1 homestand that was the beginning of a home-ice winless streak that now has reached nine games.

In the nearly four weeks since, Colorado has been attempting to piece together pairings capable of, among other things, helping out goalies Calvin Pickard and Semyon Varlamov. If theres any silver lining in all of this, its that defenseman Nikita Zadorov, still only 21, periodically has played well enough to provide additional hope that the 2015 Ryan OReilly trade can be something other than a one-sided disaster for the Avalanche.

Yes, thats worded with caution. The Avalanche has the fewest points in the NHL 25 going into Thursday nights game at Dallas and Zadorov is a minus-13, second-worst to Tyson Barries minus-20 among the Colorado defensemen. Zadorov has had his problems, too. But he has been making progress.

Hundred percent, yes, Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said after practice Wednesday. We talked to him a lot early in the year about just honing in on his defensive details, working on those details, improving and being more of a physical presence in front of our net and keeping guys off the net. Right now, I would say hed put more work into his conditioning off the ice. We feel like he can handle more minutes, but we wanted him to get into better condition in order to be able to do that. Hes been committed there and I believe thats given him some confidence on the ice. I would say over the past 10 to 12 games weve seen him play some of his best games of the year, amidst a tough stretch.

Zadorov doesnt have a goal, has five assists and is averaging 17:48 of ice time. Against Calgary Tuesday, he played 23:41 mostly in a pairing with Francois Beauchemin and was a minus-2.

Im not putting myself ahead of the team interests, Zadorov said. I know what I can do better. Im going to work at it. Obviously, Im not happy. Its been pretty frustrating. Its not fun. Were here to win. Thats why were in this business. Its hard when you cant finish it off. We had a good talk today, a good practice and we need to bring it on the ice (at Dallas).

What can he work on?

Oh, my offensive game, he said quickly. The more offensive plays made, the more chances Im going to generate for our forwards to score goals, get the lead, score enough goals to win the game. Myself, I have to shoot more, finish opportunities and score goals.

And, yes, this bears repeating: Hes still only 21 and playing the position at which players take longer to develop. Buffalos first-round pick (16th overall) in 2013, Zadorov who came to North America from his native Russia in time to play two seasons of major junior with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League was part of the package Colorado acquired from the Sabres for OReilly and Jamie McGinn. The Avalanche got Zadorov, Mikhail Grigorenko, J.T. Compher (now in the AHL) and a second-round pick that later was traded to San Jose. The Avs acquired the 39th overall pick in that trade and took A.J. Greer, who has eight goals and 13 assists with San Antonio and has played in five games for Colorado this season. Grigorenko has been given plenty of chances to play on top lines, but continues to struggle, and Compher playing for the University of Michigan at the time of the trade is considered a legitimate organizational prospect, and he has seven goals and seven assists with the Rampage.

So the trade with offshoots will take time to judge, and Zadorov can make it look better if he continues to develop.

Im getting better every day, Zadorov said. Im coming to practice, Im playing games, Im getting more confidence and learning more things. Ive been in this league, what, three and a half years (off and on since 2013), and I started when I was 18 and saw everything. Look at Brent Burns (of San Jose), hes like 30 and hes the best defenseman. Hes one of the best players in this league right now. You can be good at 18, but you can be good at 35, it doesnt matter.

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