Zadorov should give Blackhawks physical element they've been missing on the back end

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov, left, of Russia, checks Dallas Stars center Mattias Janmark, of Sweden, during an NHL game Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Denver. Both are on the Blackhawks now.

    Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov, left, of Russia, checks Dallas Stars center Mattias Janmark, of Sweden, during an NHL game Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Denver. Both are on the Blackhawks now. Associated Press

  • Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) plays against the Detroit Red Wings in the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, March 2, 2020, in Detroit.

    Colorado Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov (16) plays against the Detroit Red Wings in the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, March 2, 2020, in Detroit. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 1/11/2021 7:58 PM

Keep your head up.

Know where No. 16 is AT ALL TIMES.

 

Don't let up, even for a second.

This is the kind of direct, no-nonsense message many teams deliver before going up against Nikita Zadorov, who expects to make his Blackhawks debut when the season begins against Tampa Bay on Wednesday.

Nobody knows why Zadorov can be so lethal better than Hawks forward Mattias Janmark, who went toe to toe with the 6-foot-6, 235-pound defenseman during last summer's Stanley Cup Finals.

"You're always circling his number before the game," said Janmark, who suggested we go look up a YouTube video of him getting flattened by Zadorov in 2017. "You don't want to be on the wrong side of that. Every team knows when he's on the ice."

Zadorov, who was acquired from Colorado in the Brandon Saad trade in November, returned to practice Monday after missing a few days with a tweaked groin.

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"I feel really good today, so I'm ready to rock 'n' roll," Zadorov said.

The big, rangy Russian has really stood out during camp. He's making it extremely tough on forwards as they enter the offensive zone by instantly taking away time and space. Zadorov has also thwarted plenty of scoring opportunities by using his long reach to deflect passes.

"He can shut plays down with his stick, and just getting an arm out on a guy and it'll stop him in his tracks," said fellow D-man Connor Murphy.

Still, Zadorov has hardly reached his potential. And the Hawks know it.

"If he were the finished product and a top-pair, 30-minute guy already then it would have been pretty hard to get him," said coach Jeremy Colliton. "So we understand that there's some development that needs to happen.

"He knows that too. He wants to have a bigger role and wants to be a part of what we're doing here. ... But we've got to realize it's not gonna be perfect right away."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

One example of that came Monday when Zadorov went a bit too prematurely to the boards during a 3-on-2 drill. That left David Kampf wide open in the middle, and Kampf proceeded to bury the shot.

It's not at all unusual for young D-men to struggle with consistency early in their career. It takes time, patience and a burning desire to take your game to the next level every single day.

Zadorov seems to understand this. Now it's up to him -- with help from the coaching staff -- to become the top-pairing D-man the Avs thought they were getting when they drafted him 16th overall in 2013.

"I cannot have nights off," Zadorov said. "I (want to) play against the best players in the world every night and try to make their life miserable and shut them down. ... I've just got to remind myself every day to be the best version of myself. Come to the rink, work hard."

As for the big, crunching blows? Well, don't blink because we'll probably see plenty of those this season because Zadorov averages 3.2 per game, which is 265 over an 82-game season.

It's an element of the game that's been sorely missing on the Hawks' blue line over the past few years, with Stan Bowman loading up on smaller, puck-moving defensemen.

Now opponents will have to have their head on a swivel at all times.

"It's something we haven't had on our team in a long time," Murphy said. "That's part of the game that goes a long way over the course of a season. And even a game (when) you're on the road and you feel like you're getting physically outworked, you've got a guy like that to really settle (us) down."

Roster moves:

The Hawks assigned 10 players to the Rockford IceHogs on Monday. They were forwards Andrei Altybarmakian, Evan Barratt, Matej Chalupa, MacKenzie Entwistle, Reese Johnson, Cam Morrison, Tim Söderlund and Michal Teplý, as well as defensemen Chad Krys and Alec Regula.

Slap shot:

Center Carl Soderberg (immigration documents) will not travel with the Hawks on their season-opening road trip to Tampa Bay and Florida. Coach Jeremy Colliton hopes Soderberg can join the team when they return. The home opener is against Detroit on January 22.

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