Russia's Nikita Zaytsev is wowing NHL scouts.
He’ll never be an Alexander Ovechkin or an Ilya Kovalchuk. Heck, he won’t even be a Maxim Afinogenov or a Ruslan Fedotenko. After all, in 40 games for Sibir of the Kontinental Hockey League he had no goals and just one assist. But given a chance, he just might just join the ranks of Slava Fetisov and Sergei Zubov. That’s because Nikita Zaytsev is a defenseman.
Amidst all the hype of the Russians in this year’s draft, baby-faced Zaytsev has flown under the radar of most fans. In fact, even sports writers have misrepresented him. One article from NHL.com headlines a story saying that he patterns himself after Mike Green, based on Nikita’s statement that he thought Green was one of the most exciting defensemen to watch. Certainly not something many of us who value defensive defensemen find all that appealing.
However, one only needs look at his international statistics to see what kind of player he really is. A +7 with 5 points, 4 being assists, at the U18 Worlds a year ago show the caliber of Rob Blake, rather than a Mike Green. Talk to his teammates and opponents both internationally and in Russia and they will tell you that his defensive zone play is impeccable. His speed, skill and hockey intelligence are already proving him to be one of the top in the KHL, making him a tough opponent — all this from a kid who is only 18 years old playing against men twice his age and with the twice the experience. I know, what else would you expect from a Russian-lover like me? Still, I’m not the only one excited about him. He may be flying under the average NHL fan’s radar, but the scouts are definitely talking.
Not only does he have the skill and speed of a seasoned professional, but he is quickly adding size and strength to his overall resume. Despite only being 176 lbs at 6’ 1”, he scored in the top six at the NHL combine in both jump tests and bench press (including the push test), demonstrating all-around power and strength. Not bad for a skilled, agile defenseman who still has some growing to do. These numbers, no doubt, did not go unrecognized by many of the organizations.
As a Colorado Avalanche fan I can only dream of landing such a fantastic prospect. Unfortunately, though, the Avs will probably be drafting another tiny offensive defenseman. It’s really too bad, because this kid has all the tools to become one of the great all-around defensemen in the NHL.
With Rob Blake retiring this year, someone needs to step in and be that type of player in the league. Nikita Zaytsev just might be the one.
Photo: Nikita Zaytsev by Elena Rusko (rusko.fishup.ru), Copyright 2010. All Rights Reserved.