NHL Draft prospects: No. 8 Nikita Zadorov

The MasterCard Memorial Cup hosts finally got the good news they were anxiously awaiting when the Buffalo Sabres returned defenceman Nikita Zadorov on Tuesday. (Terry Wilson/OHL)

Sportsnet.ca is previewing the top 30 prospects in the 30 days leading up to the National Hockey League draft in New Jersey on June 30.

The No. 8 prospect is London Knights smooth-skating rookie defenceman, Nikita Zadorov.

Stats: London Knights (OHL) | 63 GP | 6 G | 19 A | 25 P | +33 | 54 PIM

Who is Nikita Zadorov?

The London Knights selected the hulking Russian defenceman with the ninth-overall pick in the 2012 Canadian Hockey League import draft. Zadorov joined the defending Ontario Hockey League champion Knights and steadily improved over the course of his first season in North America to become a physical presence.

Zadorov first made his mark at the 2012 world under-17 hockey challenge for the gold-medal winning Russian squad. He also suited up for Russia at the 2012 under-18 world championship and was a late cut for this year’s world junior team.

Nikita Zadorov’s scouting report:

Zadorov made huge strides in his first season with the Knights, developing a reputation as a physical, two-way defender. He jumped up in the rush at a moment’s notice and displayed soft hands around the goal area. He can make a strong first pass and start the rush offensively. Zadorov plays a solid defensive game, underlined by a bruising and punishing physical style. He has the size, at six-foot-four and 200 pounds, that can stand to add another 30 pounds of muscle once he fills out. He’s far from a finished product, but his development is on the right track towards becoming a big-time defender.

Teams who might be interested in Nikita Zadorov:

Zadorov is an intriguing prospect for NHL teams given his vast potential. He’s less of a sure thing than some of the other prospects on the cusp of the top 10, which means his ranking on NHL teams’ lists could be all over the map. However, the Philadelphia Flyers could be in the market for a defenceman who plays his bruising style. Should he last to the 11th pick, the Flyers may be interested in taking a chance on the skilled and punishing defender.

Scout’s take:

“Potential is the name of the game with Zadorov,” says Ross MacLean, head scout for International Scouting Services. “He is already a tremendously skilled and intimidating defender with explosive physical and technical abilities, but has an absolute ton of room left for further development and physical maturation. He has tremendous size with a monstrous frame that has plenty of room to build on, but is already significantly stronger than a lot of his competition. He loves to hit and can throw some seriously heavy bodychecks.

“He moves well for his size, is decently-mobile and loves to join the rush,” MacLean adds. “He has a very strong shot that he still hasn’t really become comfortable showing off on a consistent basis. Zadorov could potentially become the Russian Shea Weber, but will still require a few years of development before that potential becomes close to reality.”

“Zadorov is a projection pick,” echoes David Burstyn, director of scouting for McKeen’s Hockey. “When you look at him, you marvel at the type of things that he’s able to do at his size. He skates with unbelievable agility, both in reverse and lateral, and straight-ahead. He always jumped in the rush this year acting kind of as a fourth forward, even though his point totals didn’t necessarily reflect that. He’s great in transition and he could easily recover if he got up ice too high.

“His point shot is a little erratic,” Burstyn adds. “He was experimented at times on the power-play, but he would probably factor into more of a shutdown guy at the NHL level. When he hits, he can absolutely annihilate a player and eliminate them completely from the play. He has to work on his puck skills. He can make a good short-term and long-term pass, but the puck skills at this point is the one thing he needs to refine. I thought he did a good job this year playing North American hockey; he adjusted really well and helped the London Knights win another OHL championship and get a berth in the Memorial Cup.”


Zadorov was ranked 22nd by the NHL’s Central Scouting (North American skaters), seventh by McKeen’s Hockey and eighth by International Scouting Services.

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