With a 6-foot-6 frame and 235 pounds of weight to throw around, defenceman Nikita Zadorov was brought to the Calgary Flames for his physical play.
Eyes toward the playoffs and grinding down their opposition on the way there, the Flames gave up a third-round pick to significantly bump up their size median. Then they forked over $3.75 million to secure the restricted free agent’s services for the year.
Considering the Flames left their captain Mark Giordano exposed in the expansion draft for salary cap reasons, the hefty payment given to Zadorov wasn’t considered ideal by external critics. That’s magnified by the fact he’s serving as a bottom-pairing defenceman after an unsuccessful start in the top four.
“He has his moments,” Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter said on Saturday afternoon before a battle with the Vancouver Canucks on Hockey Day in Canada.
We’re not sure if he was talking about the offensive touch he’s shown recently, or the mistakes he’s made. Zadorov has a goal and three points in wins over the Blues and Blue Jackets this week. But he was also a minus-3 when the wheels came off in St. Louis in the rematch.
“I think that he’s got to really stick to the structure of what his position is,” Sutter added.
“He’s been a much better player with the puck the last number of games. I think without the puck his game has to be more consistent.”
Competition could come via NHL trade market
Zadorov could find himself with more competition as the NHL trade talks heat up ahead of the deadline.
The Calgary Flames have been connected to veteran Ben Chiarot of the Montreal Canadiens, who went to the Stanley Cup final last year and is an impending unrestricted free agent.
The Dallas Stars may part with John Klingberg. He might be even more attractive for a Flames team that doesn’t have a true No. 1 blueliner since Giordano was scooped up by the Seattle Kraken.
And as a potential UFA himself, Giordano could make his way back.
General manager Brad Treliving is working the phones. And more bodies will hit the NHL trade block as we approach the deadline.
That means Zadorov will need to show more of the physical play and sound positioning Sutter wants to see. His spot in the lineup may depend on it down the stretch.