The Buffalo Sabres added something new to their defense corps during the 2013 NHL Entry Draft on June 30: a Russian. The team drafted blueliner Nikita Zadorov of the OHL’s London Knights with the 16th overall selection in the 2013 draft.
The Sabres selected Zadorov with a pick that many – myself included – believed was headed for Valeri Nichushkin, the second-highest ranked European skater according to Central Scouting’s final rankings. Instead, the Sabres went for Zadorov, a skilled defenseman who just completed his rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League with the London Knights. Central scouting had him ranked #30 in midterm with a final ranking of #22.
The 18-year-old Moscow native comes in at 6-foot-5 and weighing 221 pounds, and was drafted by the London Knights with the 9th overall selection of the 2012 CHL Import Draft. His size and mobility are two factors that he’ll bring to the Sabres lineup in several years; for now, he’ll remain in the Ontario Hockey League.
As a rookie, Zadorov appeared in 63 regular season games with the Knights, missing just five games in the season. He made his OHL debut on September 21 as the Knights defeated the Erie Otters, 8-2. Zadorov was a plus-3 and had five penalty minutes.
The London Knights went on a 24-game winning streak from November 2 until January 1. This stretch would see Zadorov score two goals – including his first OHL goal on November 11 against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. He’d also add seven assists and 12 penalty minutes during the near-record-breaking stretch, and was a plus-17 during that time.
In total on the season, he had six goals and 19 assists for 25 points, and also had 54 penalty minutes. The season included three multi-point games for the young defenseman. Zadorov ended the season as a plus-33 on the top team in the OHL, as the Knights went 50-13-2-3 and had 105 points in 68 regular season games.
Zadorov led Knights rookies in points and was second behind Olli Maatta, a draft pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins, for defense scoring on the team. His plus-33 was tied with Phoenix Coyotes draft pick Max Domi for the best on the Knights.
He also appeared in 20 of 21 playoff games for the Knights before the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks eventually knocked the team out of the Memorial Cup in the semifinal match-up.
Zadorov will return to the Knights for his second season in the Ontario Hockey League this coming fall. Expect him to be a powerful, skilled addition to the Buffalo Sabres blueline several years down the road.