At the beginning of the season, Nikita Zadorov couldn't find his way on the ice if you gave him a map. Now, the Buffalo Sabres can't afford to keep him off it.
Zadorov has played eight games in the NHL after sitting in the press box as a healthy scratch for the first few weeks of the season. If he plays one more game this year, a decision will have to be made by Tim Murray whether to keep him in Buffalo and trigger his entry level contract or try to sort out the CHL/KHL conundrum that's forced Zadorov to remain in Buffalo all these weeks.
For his part, Zadorov is doing his best to make Murray's job easy, as the young Russian defenseman has made a very strong statement that he deserves to stay in Buffalo for the rest of the season. In eight games, in which he's averaging over 15 minutes of ice time, Zadorov is a +3, tied with Zemgus Girgensons for the best mark on the team. He's also leading the team in relative Fenwick, meaning that when he's on the ice, the Sabres are best at directing more shots toward the net than their opponents. So he's on the ice for very few goals against and leads the team in puck possession stats? Not bad for a 19-year old.
Of course, he hasn't been perfect - Zadorov is receiving sheltered minutes, and hasn't seen too much time on either special teams unit. He also has six giveaways in his eight games, not a very good ratio. However, while he only has one assist and nine shots in his eight games, Zadorov's poise and positioning have been beyond what's expected for a rookie defenseman, and he's shown he can handle the load of a top player, earning over 25 minutes of ice time against Minnesota.
Simply put, Zadorov has been one of the Sabres best defensemen since he started playing regularly. Granted, with this tire fire of a blue line, that's not very difficult, but it's been a joy to watch the pairing of Zadorov and Rasmus Ristolainen grow into one of the Sabres most reliable units.
Tim Murray will soon have to make a decision regarding Zadorov's future, but it's a decision that Zadorov himself has made significantly easier over the past few weeks.