Breaking Down: Nikita Zadorov – Almost There

After the disappointment of getting injured just as he seemed poised for a breakout during the lost season and a bizarre contract negotiation that cut into training camp, Big Z had a lot to prove going into 17-18. Despite an up and down early season including some healthy scratches, he really got going coming out of Thanksgiving. He ended the regular season with 7G/13A while leading the defense in games played with 77. He also had the honor of being the first Avalanche player to score a playoff goal since Erik Johnson in the tragic game 7 vs Minnesota in 2014.

A number that stands out to a lot of people is his NHL leading 278 hits (or 11.13 per hour if you like rates) including 15 in a single game vs Los Angeles. Usually this is an indication that a player’s team is often without the puck when he’s on the ice but that wasn’t really the case, at least not to the degree a league leader in hits would generally have. Hopefully that’s not a mark he strives for every year but I do think there’s value in how he plays on an Avs team that’s not incredibly physical in general.

What stands out to me is how he earned his time on ice and the opportunity to play with the top lines and defensive partners all year. When Z was acquired from Buffalo, this is the role we all hoped he would grow into. At 23 years old he’s just entering his prime as a top 3 defenseman.

Switching from forwards to defensemen, I’m going to change the way I profile these young fellows. Let’s get to it.

Legend: i – individual, CF – shot attempts for, xGF – expected goals for, G – goals, GF – goals for, P – points, CA – Corsi against, xGA – expected goals against

5v5 Offense

Zadorov isn’t considered a scoring D in the sense that he does not get time on the power play but he does produce at an acceptable rate 5v5. For the purposes of these stats I’m comparing Z to the top 7 D’s by TOI this year, which is the 6 you’re probably thinking of plus Lindholm.

iCF/CF – 0.182, 4th
iCF/60 – 10.35, 4th
ixGF/xGF – 0.078, 4th
ixGF/60 – 0.16, 4th

Individually, he slots in to 4th in most categories in shot rates and percentage of offense created when he’s on the ice, in all cases behind Barrie, EJ and Barberio. This is about what you’d expect at this point in his development so it’s a positive. I don’t think he’s got a lot more upside in straight up shot generation and share unless the staff start pairing him with an even more defensively inclined D but experience should give him better quality or ixG rate as he matures.

G/GF – 0.089, 4th
P/GF – 0.31, 4th
iSh% – 5.95, 1st

Like with the shot share metrics his goal and point share stats have him in 4th. The 5.95 shooting percentage is pretty tall cotton for a defenseman and because he hadn’t scored a goal since his 1st year in Buffalo there’s not much to compare it to. It’s a little high but Z made smart pinches and some good rush chances this season while opting to pass in from the point rather than take low-percentage shots. This could keep a fairly high shooting percentage reasonable over the long haul.

CF/60 – 56.97, 2nd behind Barrie
xGF/60 – 2.04, t2nd (with Nemeth) behind EJ
GF/xGF – 1.265, 3rd behind TB4/Nemo
On-ice Sh% – 8.62, 3rd, also behind TB4/Nemo

Big Z’s on-ice stats are a little more robust than his individuals, which hints at the quality of teammate effect. He’s a passenger but that’s not a surprise playing often with Landy, Mack, Mikko and Barrie. It says something that he can keep up to be honest.

5v5 Defense/Penalty Kill

CA/60 – 61.79, 5th
xGA/60 – 2.34, 5th
GA/60 – 2.44, 5th
On-ice Sv% – .928, 5th

Z actually had some good shot suppression going for the first half of the year but the Avs in general got more and more high event starting around the All-Star Break. I’ll go into this in more detail below but moving from EJ’s partner to Barrie’s had a profound effect on his defensive shot rates as you might imagine.

PK TOI/game – 2:05, 4th (5th if you include Siemens)
PK CA/60 – 103.47, 2nd behind Lindholm
PK xGA/60 – 6.31, 1st (2nd if you include Siemens)
PK GA/60 – 4.86, 2nd (3rd if you include Siemens)
PK On-ice Sv% – .910, 3rd (4th if you include Siemens)

PK usage was up and down, he played a lot in the first half of the season, then rarely in the 3rd quarter (which is when he injured his shoulder) then more down the stretch. By the numbers he and Barberio were the most effective PKers (add Duncan to that for his time in the lineup) but Nemeth and EJ were the horses that took most of the minutes. It’s a stretch to say the 2nd unit was better since they would take on PP2 most often and didn’t have to deal with the longer shifts. We’ve seen Z’s struggles in static situations around the net turn into some troubling goals against but like the rest of his game it’s a work in progress and experience should turn that into a positive soon.

Linemates

Zadorov’s most common partners were Johnson (441:10) and Barrie (362:31) with the next closest being Barberio at 155:00. Just for reference most common forwards he deployed with were Landy/Mack/Mikko with Carl’s line next. That’s a very high quality of teammate and it follows he would often be out against the toughest competition.

Z

We see the shot suppression gradually slip away in the 3rd quarter of the season then a massive blowup as EJ got injured and the staff paired Z and Barrie together. Playing with Barrie is a tough assignment for anyone, throw in being the de facto top pair with that and it’s no surprise. What we should be focusing on is the shots for (black) line that gradually got better and better as the Avs rolled down the stretch, nearly doubling the rate from game 60 to 80. That’s hot. Barrie is inherently high-event and I think Z likes playing that way. With EJ in the lineup taking some of the tougher matchups, the staff can put these two out with a little easier competition and really clean up. Sounds fun, right?

 

What we’ve got here is a young D that can take tough matchups and is starting to show the offense needed to play in the top 4. Many have tried, few have succeeded in rolling out with Tyson Barrie consistently. Whether this is a long term thing remains to be seen but with several offensively talented D’s in the system now it’s important to have a guy that can complement and enhance that style.

Scouting out his game tendencies, Z has good instincts in the neutral zone but still needs work at preventing zone entries. The hits are nice but if they don’t result in a turnover it’s a hollow victory. I like his offensive tendencies, compared to the more defensively inclined D on the Avs he’s more of a true 2-way defenseman. The next step needs to be using the experience he’s built so far to get better at static situations in the D-zone.We want to see him handling coverages and swaps better and become one of the top penalty killers. The progression he makes there this season will say something about Nolan Pratt and Jared Bednar as coaches and will have an effect on the contract he signs next Summer.

 

Thanks as always to Natural Stat Trick and Corsica for the stats, Micah McCurdy for the vizzy and SeaMill for helping out on our own derivative numbers.

 

 

earl06

Scoring LW, punchy climber for the Ardennes classics, spirit guide

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