Person of Interest: Maple Leafs new defenceman Nikita Zaitsev

Toronto Maple Leafs' President Brendan Shanahan talks about winning the #1 overall pick in the NHL Draft Lottery and what it means for Toronto going forward.

Over the past several years, Toronto Maple Leafs management hasn’t shied away from taking chances on European free agents. The Petri Kontiola experiment didn’t pan out, but Nikita Soshnikov has developed nicely with the Toronto Marlies and even impressed 11 games with the big club late in the regular season.

The next experiment is KHL defenceman Nikita Zaitsev. The Russian signed a one, year, entry-level contract with the Maple Leafs Monday.

Zaitsev is regarded as a strong-skating, offensively gifted blueliner blessed with NHL size.

Here’s what hockey fans need to know about him.

Age: 24
Shoots: Right
Height: 6-foot-2
Weight: 196 pounds
Team: CSKA Moscow
Drafted: Undrafted in NHL, 4th overall in 2009 KHL Draft
Contract status: One, year, entry-level deal

He was a hot commodity…

Back in October, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported the Maple Leafs weren’t the only team interested in the blueliner. The Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Los Angeles Kings also expressed interest in the player and many teams went out of their way to fly overseas to see him play.

He was impressed with Toronto during a visit last summer…

Zaitsev spent some time with Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan in Toronto last June and by all indications he liked what he saw.

He puts up points from the back end…

Zaitsev led CSKA Moscow blueliners in points in each of his four seasons with the team. He registered eight goals (seven of them were on the power play), 18 assists, 20 penalty minutes and a plus-21 rating in 46 regular season games this season. He added 13 points in 20 playoff games.

He had a few high-profile teammates in the KHL…

In three seasons with CSKA Moscow, he was teammates with former NHLers Alexander Radulov, Alexander Frolov, Alexei Morozov, Oleg Saprykin, Steve Eminger and Viktor Fasth. Prior to that he spent four seasons with Novosibirsk Sibir where he played with current St. Louis Blues stars Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera. In three of his four seasons with Novosibirsk he was coached by Tarasenko’s father Andrei.

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