1. Will Nikita Zadorov become a reliable top-four player?
As of now, I do not think so. Nikita Zadorov has been anything but fantastic this season. While it is hard to dislike the play of a defenseman that has 66 hits through 16 games, he has not been great in his own end.
When trading a player like Brandon Saad getting a top-four defenseman in return would have been nice, but so far this season, Zadorov has looked more like a sixth defenseman. Zadorov is averaging 18:30 minutes of ice time a game, and his 11 penalty minutes is second-best on the team at this time.
Zadorov’s penalties the past few games have not been significant, they have cost the team in some bad situations, and honestly, I would not mind seeing the team give a different player an opportunity and scratch Zadorov for a game.
The main issue is that Zadorov provides a physicality level that this team is missing from their other players. Zadorov leads the team in hits by almost 30 at this point, and considering the team is pairing him with the young rookies that are a little undersized, his physicality is needed.
In the long run, I do not think Zadorov stays with the team. This season has already changed the direction of the Blackhawks rebuild a little. While the team should remain focused on their long-term success, some of the pieces brought in this offseason should be back.
Mattias Janmark could be an effective forward on this team, and he is going to be due for a pay raise if he keeps playing at the level he has through the first 16 games. Besides that, locking in Zadorov with a lot of money will take away from the next round of contracts this team will have to give out to players like Boqvist Kurashev, Suter, Kampf, and Dach in the next few years.
Please feel free to comment on what you think Zadorov’s role will be with the team.