January 28 2014 07:26AM
On Remembrance Day 2011, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson traded for D Nikita Nikitin. It was one of his better trades, and the possibility exists for executive and player to reunite this summer in Edmonton.
At the time, Nikitin was a fairly obscure defenseman to most NHL fans, having played fewer than 30 games in the big leagues. The Jackets felt they knew what they were getting.
- Columbus Head Coach Scott Arniel: "He's a big-body defensemen, a defending defensemen. He has a big shot. We'll get him in here and see what he's all about. This was more about changing our look on the back end. Our scouts think he can play a well-rounded game."
Earlier this season, it was suggested that the Oilers might be in the market for Nikitin, either via trade or free agency (he'll be UFA this coming summer). In the first of a series, I'll look at possible solutions for the 2014-15 Oilers defense.
IT WORKED IN C-BUS!
Nikitin has been a quality NHL defenseman for the Blue Jackets, and has done it on a very fair deal. In the 2011-12 season he was gold for the Jackets, but slid some in the shortened 2012-13 season. This year, he's been up and down, playing as much as 22.5 minutes some nights and being a healthy scratch in others.
THE VOLLMAN SLEDGEHAMMER
Rob Vollman's wonderful toy at the Hockey Abstract will serve as our guide through the Columbus blue. As you can see, Nikitin is playing against the soft parade and his offsensive zone starts are in no way severe (Tyutin and Jack Johnson are the the ones climbing Everest). Notice Ryan Murray's getting the push in terms of zone start and mid-level opposition, and further notice he's in a blue (good) bubble.
This is the previous season, Nikitin is playing tougher opposition and has a more severe zone start than in his current season. Johnson and Dalton Prout are getting the toughest zone starts, but the Russians haven't got it easy either. Nikitin is a useful NHL player in this season.
This is Nikitin's first season with the Jackets, and obviously the most effective. He's playing tough minutes and doing it while starting in his own zone a lot (this is 11-12). Nikitin's value in this season to Columbus would have been terrific.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
The Oilers need to get it right this summer on the blue. A top-pairing defender who is proven and can play in all three disciplines is vital. Craig MacTavish may in fact call on Scott Howson for an update on Nikita Nikitin and the scouting report may be positive from the former Columbus GM.
Nikitin can certainly play NHL defense, and that has value. I think he falls well short of being a proven top-pairing solution at this time. We'll have another look at him at the end of the NHL season. Up next: Florida's surprising gem.