The Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday announced that the team has signed defenseman Nikita Zadorov to a three-year, entry-level contract.
The Sabres selected the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Russian defenseman with the 16th overall pick in the 2013 NHL Draft.
Zadorov, 18, has played in three exhibition games so far this season and recorded his first career goal in the game against Toronto on Sunday.
“I think it’s great. It’s a big experience for me to play here in NHL exhibition games,” Zadorov told Sabres.com. “I’ve played three games and I think I did a pretty good job. I just want to try and make the team.”
Sabres general manager Darcy Regier has been impressed with the progress Zadorov has made so far. However, he also said that his recent play didn’t play a major role in getting a deal done. It was the team’s intention all along to sign him this year; it just took until late September to get the deal done.
“He is advanced and he’s continued to get better," Regier said. "He was good in [the NHL Prospects Tournament in] Traverse [City, Mich.] and he’s continued to get better here, so he’s on a nice path.”
The Sabres have made numerous cuts over the last week, but Zadorov has stuck around training camp so far. The team has nine defensemen still in camp and it’s a possibility that Zadorov could be on the Sabres roster come their season opener in Detroit on Oct. 2.
“Those are the things we’re talking about. The harder decision is on a more collective thing, really the roster size,” Regier said. “You can only carry 23 players so there’s some hard decisions to make.”
In 2012-13, Zadorov played for the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, recording 25 points (6+19) and 54 penalty minutes in 63 games.
It’s still a possibility that he could end up back in London. The Knights host the Memorial Cup this year and that means he’d be playing big minutes on a team with a prolonged schedule.
“That means he’s playing deep into the season and deep into the spring, but he’s performed well here too,” Regier said. “So we’ll continue to have the conversations over the next few days.”
For now though, the Sabres see the time he’s spending around NHL players as invaluable.
“Combined with playing some games and being around, I think, are great experiences,” Regier said. “He’s in the main dressing room with the guys now. It’s good for him to see how the professionals conduct their business and he’s a sponge. He’s a pretty quick learner.”
(Nathan can be reached at email@example.com)