Buffalo Sabres: What Should They Do with Nikita Zadorov?

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With the amount of young talent the Buffalo Sabres have on their roster, it was only a matter of time before a significant hurdle was encountered.

Enter the Nikita Zadorov saga.

Zadorov, the Sabres’ second first-round selection in the 2013 NHL draft, is currently the center of a rights conflict that encompasses three leagues.

When the season began, many assumed that Zadorov might stick with the Sabres for any period of time less than the 10 games it would take to have his entry-level deal kick in and then head back to London of the OHL for the remainder of the season. Essentially, they would handle him the same as they did last season when he played seven games with the Sabres and then went back to play for the Knights. 

However, there is a wrinkle many were unaware of: Zadorov can─apparently─only play for a team in the CHL if the KHL signs a transfer agreement.

As acknowledged in the ProHockeyTalk article, and more specifically by Sabres general manager Tim Murray, the entire situation is incredibly unclear and he, and many others, are not too sure how this whole mess will work out. What is known is CSKA Moscow drafted Zadorov fourth overall in the 2012 KHL draft and own his rights there. 

But despite no one seemingly really knowing how to navigate the issue, the Sabres are left with two clear options: send Zadorov down to London and hope all goes well or keep him on the NHL roster and burn a year of his entry-level deal.

Now, as with most things, these options both have their pros and cons, but the biggest consideration in all of this is likely to be the control of Zadorov’s development for the remainder of the season.

No matter what you make of Zadorov’s inability to get into the lineup this year─ignoring the last two games─the kid has all the measurables to be a top-flight NHL defenseman in the very near future. He’s 6’5″, 235 pounds and is loaded with excellent skating and an explosive shot. 

Assuming Tyler Myers stays put, which admittedly may be a bad assumption, the Sabres will have three potential top-four defensemen standing at least 6’4″ in Myers, Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen. While Myers has shied away from being the ultraphysical presence on the ice during his career, Zadorov and Ristolainen have shown a penchant for throwing their bodies around on top of their skills elsewhere.

Simply put, Zadorov is a huge part of the future for these Sabres and letting whatever happens happen with him for the next six-to-eight months is probably not something Murray is all too comfortable with.

Yes, staying with the Sabres for seven more games burns a year of his entry-level contract, and yes, most of this year may be spent in the press box, but Murray has him under his supervision during that time. Risking that he goes to the KHL and does not develop to Murray’s standards is a huge risk. 

Beyond that, per Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald, Zadorov is enjoying his time with the big club despite his lack of playing time up until this point. Not only that, but coach Ted Nolan is impressed with his desire to play as well as his work ethic in practice. If those things hold true, the worst thing that can happen is losing a year of his deal.

Now, it must be said that the dream would be to have Zadorov play in the AHL with the Rochester Americans. That is prohibited by the NHL-CHL transfer agreement, which does not allow prospects who do not turn 20 by December 31 of the year the season begins to play in the AHL. They must either play in the CHL, which is comprised of the OHL, QMJHL and WHL, or the NHL. 

Murray has been a huge advocate of changing this rule in some way and has been very vocal about it since Sam Reinhart was sent down. 

But unfortunately, Zadorov is stuck in limbo, which means he’s “stuck” on the Sabres roster and maybe in the press box for now. The situation is not ideal, but it may be the best of a few terrible options out there.

 

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season: @SwordPlay18.

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