Ron and Don: Is Nikita Zaitsev actually a terrible defender?

Ron and Don break down the latest in the playoffs and Don goes off on Maple Leafs rookie Nikita Zaitsev.

Don Cherry doesn’t understand what all the fuss is about over Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Nikita Zaitsev.

Speaking on Coach’s Corner Monday, Cherry doesn’t think much of Zaitsev’s defence and is astonished the Leafs are reportedly giving the 25-year-old a seven-year contract extension.

“Can you imagine people giving me a hard time – Toronto Maple Leafs upset with me – because I said Zaitsev is not a defenceman,” Cherry said. “He’s minus-22, he leads the whole team in minus and you’re worried about getting him back. …

“You’re gonna give a seven-year contract, ridiculous. The guys on the Marlies are watching this game saying, ‘I can’t believe they’re giving this guy a seven-year contract, [he’s] minus-2 and he keeps playing.’”

Zaitsev is in his first season with Toronto, signing a one-year, entry-level deal with the Leafs in May last year after spending eight seasons playing professionally in Russia. He played in all 82 of Toronto’s regular-season games this season, tallying up 36 points (four goals, 32 assists).

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