I remember just a few years ago, and even entering this current 2018-19 campaign, that Nikita Zadorov was going to be the future of the Colorado Avalanche blueline core. But with the Avalanche bolstering its blueline with young standout Samuel Girard, 2017 fourth overall pick Cale Makar, and now Ian Cole, it has seemed that Zadorov’s once standout status has all but dissipated.

More so than just that, it appears that Zaddy has found himself in coach Jared Bednar’s “doghouse.” In the 22 games Zadorov has played for Colorado, Zadorov finds his time-on-ice (TOI) to be the lowest in his NHL career (15:18 TOI) by almost a full two minutes and nearly four minutes less than his TOI last season.

So, why is it that the league leader in hits last season (278 hits) finds himself on the bottom D-pairing with dwindling playing time? Well, let’s take a look back to the 2017 offseason where Zaddy inked a two-year, $4.3 million deal to continue to play for the Avs.

After the deal had been inked with Colorado, it had seemed the Avalanche were smooth sailing with the Russian. But concerns on Zadorov’s mentality to put forth a real effort in offseason training camp were brought up by the coaching staff. Nonetheless, Zadorov exploded in the second half of the season.

Now, though, Zadorov stands on the edge of a steep precipice. This season, along with the lower TOI, and even a third-period benching in the Avalanche’s 6-3 victory over the Boston Bruins, has seen Zadorov’s stats flop as well, even as a protected third pair player.

Zadorov has gotten in front of the puck the least amount of times of all Avalanche defensemen, only recording 16 blocks on the year so far. Similarly, of all consistent defenders for the Avalanche, Zadorov has given up the most even strength shot attemptsa troubling statistic for someone who has been playing on the third pair.

One positive has been Zadorov’s shooting percentage. Sitting currently at 12.06% at even strength, Zadorov has taken many more shots (in proportion) than last season, where his percentage sat at 8.62% at even strength. Much of that has to do with Zadorov being deployed on the ice at even strength with more frequency. Last season, Zadorov would come out to the ice while the team was in the offensive zone 44% of the time. This year, the percentage has jumped to 50.3%. Points wise, Zadorov is also staying consistent to his normal scoring by about .1 points per 60 minutes played.

So now that Zadorov has dropped from a shining beacon for the defense into a man stuck in “timeout” with his coach, what are Zadorov’s next steps?

First, Zadorov could elect to just wait out this season and accept his role in discontent until he becomes a restricted free agent in the offseason.

Zadorov may also be able to break out of the hole he’s in and go off much like he did last season. If that is the case, it may be very possible Zadorov elects to return—although that currently seems very unlikely.

Finally, the team itself could test the waters of the trading block. The Avalanche could stand to add some secondary firepower to the forwards, and Zadarov is a strong enough, young enough and talented enough player to garner some serious looks from NHL teams that are lacking in defensive physicality. Though no official talk has come up about trading Big Z, it’ll only be a matter of time before rumblings start to surface if his current trend continues.

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