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. 

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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.

Nikitin is playing mostly with David Savard this season and is about 50% Corsi For at 5×5 and that’s a good number. He and Savard are not facing the tough competition this season.


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.

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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.



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. 

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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. 

  • Lowetide

    ya, would be a good pickup. But, your continued absence of the word “line” in “blue line” is really starting to grind my gears. They are not ‘the blue’, they are defencemen. They don’t play ‘the blue’, they play the blue line. Good article though, like your stuff.

  • Jonny88

    I think it’s time the Oilers did some free agency overpay.

    I wonder if Pittsburgh is going to be able to keep both Orpik and Niskanin.

    Just saying, Letang, Fluery, Crosby, Neal, Kunitz, and Malkin have got to be eating up a lot of salary.

    I also think there will be opportunity to get someone for RW to balance the top 6. Downie, Vrbata, or Callahan. I wonder if Yak and one of the blue chip defensive prospects could pull Yandle and Vrbata from Phoenix on the condition he resigns here, otherwise we get their 1st round pick.

    Is that an overpayment? Do Yandle, Vrbata, and Orpik balance out the team?

    Yandle – Petry

    Orpik – J Schutlz

    Ference – Rookie (Nurse, Klefbomb, Marincin)

    Belov / Fedune

    While I’m dreaming, why not assume we’re adding Callahan and say we trade Yak. Between Hall, Nuge, Perron, and Callahan, I think there exists a combination of the top two lines that is a good mix of speed, skill, agitation, 2way, size, and grit. I’d even take Downie for this role. But I guess the old Oiler Mantra will prevail, maybe next year.

    • pkam

      Yak + a top defensive prospect for Yandle and Vrbata? So Yak + Marincin / Nurse / Klefbom for Yandle + Vrbata + their 1st rounder if they don’t resign here?

      I wish you were the Phoenix GM when MacT call.

      By the way, I am really interested to trade with you. What do you want for OEL and Mikkel Boedker?

      • pkam

        So a team loaded with defenders wouldn’t want to trade a guy who has a big cap hit plying on their second pairing defence, and another guy who will be a free agent at the end of the summer for a 1st overall selection sniper, and yet another defensive prospect who is tracking incredibly well to keep their pool deep?

        I understand this trade might be crazy if Vrbata decides to resign in Phoenix, but as of yet that hasn’t happened, and Yandle is looking more and more expendable on that team.

        But forget the trade, I don’t think it’s necessary given the free agent crop coming up this year. Now is the time to go the Calgary route and overpay in free agency for one or two guys to help balance out the team. One or two free agents and maybe a big trade (like above) and this could be a whole new ball game.

        • pkam

          A team loaded with defenders doesn’t mean they have to sell cheap. It just mean they can afford to unload some defender to the teams that need some.

          The return is determined by the quality of the player, the number of similar players available and the number of teams that are interested. In, other words, the price is determined by 2 factors, how good the player is, and the supply and demand.

          Yandle is a 1st pairing Dman. Letang just signed for 7.25M and Phaneuf just signed for 7M. 5.25M is not big cap hit but a very cap friendly contract for a 1st pairing dman.

          And I will rather take their 1st rounder over Vrbata. If they refuse, I will offer Vrbata 3 years @1M and I don’t think he will take it, so we will end up with their 1st rounder. If he takes it, 1M for a 50 pts player, not bad.

          Yak + Nurse / Klefbom / Marincin for Yandle and their 1st rounder (looks like they may miss the playoff so a lottery pick). I wish there are more trades like this.

          • Jonny88

            I think that would work for both teams. I really can’t see them giving up their first rounder and Yandle though. Especially considering the rumoured asking price was something like Ebs and both our first and second rounders for Yandle.

    • Zarny

      WTF are you smoking?

      If Orpik or Niskanin hit the market the Oilers should investigate, but neither is a top pairing D.

      Why on earth would the Oilers want Vrbata? He’s a downgrade on RW to Eberle and Yakupov and he isn’t a big, strong, physical player. Vrbata is basically Hemsky so that trade makes no sense.

      The Oilers certainly aren’t going to trade Yakupov for that package and Phx certainly isn’t going to give up their 1st round pick as a substitute if Vrbata doesn’t sign.

      Callahan also doesn’t add much value. He’s a RW with less offense than Eberle and is only 5’11” 190 lbs. He’s basically Hemsky with less skill but better defensively.

      FYI…Nurse, Klefbom and Marincin all shoot left and play the left side…just like Ference.

      You should dream bigger, or at least in a way that makes the Oilers better.

      • Randaman

        All true. The trade certainly isn’t designed to upgrade our top 6, but instead upgrade our top defensive pair. If you read some of the other conversation, Vrbata is just kind of sweetener since he likely won’t resign here anyway.

        You’re definitely right in that Niskanin and Orpik aren’t top end guys, but they would still help our blue core immensely while adding some much needed veteran presence. I am high on the kids coming up, but putting them into the line up will not solve the issue. I see Orpik as more of a pairing with J Schultz.

        Callahan is not a big guy, but he sure plays like it. And like you said, he is defensively responsible. The time has passed to amass a bunch of the same type of player in our top 6. Sure Callahan has less skill than Hemmer, Yak, and Ebs, but his two way play is exceptional. He is a vet, and he’s mean. I would gladly trade a few less points to keep out way more goals. A Callahan is exactly what the top 6 is missing.

        As for dreaming bigger. I’m an Oilers fan. Just dreaming at all at this point is difficult. Bottom line, none of my proposed moves will single handily turn the team around. However in conjunction with some other moves, I think it’s a good step. I have given up the idea of landing a Weber, and I have accepted the idea that we will at some point need to trade a wonder kid, and probably a blue chip defensive prospect or high pick to get what is needed. Just trying to look at what another team might go for.

      • Tikkanese

        I agree on everything except your assessment on Callahan. He’s basically Perron, not Hemsky. He plays even harder than Perron with a little less offense and is even better defensively. Not like Hemsky at all.

        Who cares if he’s 5’11”? He plays much harder than most. He’s Captain of the Rangers for a good reason. I’ll take guys like that any day over a “guy with size”. Just because they have size doesn’t mean they play with it. Callahan plays with much more than he has.

  • Nikitin should be a target for mid pairing, even if he isn’t a bonafide top pairing guy. The oil will need an overhaul on D altogether. Maybe he could pair up with Justin Schultz and be a good complementary player for Jultz. A pairing of Nikitin and Belov also makes sense.

    This whole D problem goes away when we finally land Weber… What day is that article? Lol

  • Serious Gord

    Why in the hell are the oil focusing on friends/connections with the organization?

    Isn’t the teams pro scouting effective and Astute enough to not need to bother with that process, or is the old boys ethos that pervasive?

    The guy has been a healthy scratch on a team with a defense almost as bad as the oils. Hard to see why any effort should be put into acquiring him.

  • toprightcorner

    Lowetide what has happened to Marc Methot in Ottawa. considering he was at olympic summer camp and now getting healthy scratched, could Hemsky work there.

    also beofre hockey analytics i used think graphs were cool. no longer. it’s not you it’s me.

    • Lowetide

      I think it might be injury—defensemen can lose a lot of effectiveness to injury and still play—but I also think he was probably playing a little over his head last season.

  • oilslick

    Just wondering…everyone here jokes about trading for Shea Weber with his salary eating up so much cap space and the preds needing goal scoring and possibly goaltending and with their plethora of young D…What are the chances that the preds pull the trigger on a major deal 5%, 10%, 15% chance just curious.

    • oilslick


      The Preds already paid like 30% of Weber’s salary. They’ve paid way more than his cap hit, because when Philadelphia signed him to an offer sheet, they included all the big money up front, plus a huge signing bonus, in an attempt to keep the relatively poor Predators from matching the offer.

      After laying out something like $40m in two years, the Predators aren’t about to let Weber go.

  • pkam

    If one of these guys shake lose, hopefully our 30 some million in cap space can handle grabbing them:


    Paul Stasny

    Derek Roy


    Matt Niskanin

    Books Orpik

    Nikita Nikitin





    Though probably no easy task since a lot of these guys will probably resign, and the guys that will shake lose, Roy and maybe one of the Burgh defenders will come at a high price.

    • Randaman

      In regards to orpik, he has not been anywhere near as good or physical since coming back from his ? concussion. I wouldn’t touch him with a ten foot pole. I have watched and he doesn’t look like Orpik at all lately.
      Nurse will not be going back to Junior next year. He was a last cut this year and he will not be denied next year. You heard it here first, I think LOL

      • A-Mc

        Huh. Interesting observation. Nothing worse than a gritty player losing their grit (see Eagre). I think we need that Smid type but maybe with some better defensive skills and hitting. I though Orpik could be that guy but if he lost his edge then what’s the point? Any other suggestions for that type of guy?

        • Randaman

          Ya come to think of it I do. His name is Darnell Nurse. Another year in Junior will not enhance his development. Bring in a solid #2 guy to help bring him along. I think by next year he’s ready. Gagner and something should get a #2 guy I would think. Not sure what the something would be. Then draft Dal Cole for a second line LW/C behind Hall.

          • Is Nurse able to play in the AHL next year? I would rather he played there than another year of junior. Get at least half the season in the AHL and see how he does against bigger men playing top minutes rather than on a poor defensive Oilers team playing bottom minutes.

          • Johnnydapunk

            I don’t know if Nurse would be ready for the NHL just yet. Ideally I would think that a year in the AHL (if he is eligible) couldn’t do any harm. The concern I have and maybe it isn’t justified is his size, he is very tall but also relatively light for his height. I could be completely wrong on that. This next statement is gonna rain hate, but the Oil need to be patient with their prospects and give them time to develop as bringing them up too soon has been a problem (again in my view) and it wouldn’t harm players, especially younger ones to take their time to develop into proper NHLers.

          • Randaman

            Nurse is going to be tremendous. Not sure if his size can back up his mean streak at the NHL level just yet. But you are right that he has topped out in Junior. And he is ineligible for AHL, so what to do with him?

            I also think they will bring him up next year, I just kind of wish they didn’t have to.

      • Serious Gord

        I just don’t watch that many nashville games so I’m not actually sure what kind of player he is. Do you think he will resign or do you think he might shake loose? What does tat cap hit look like?

        Finally, since we signed Hall, Ebs, and Nuge for the magical 6 mill mark, is that our ceiling for signing free agents?

        • A-Mc

          Legwands points are much like Sam Gagner’s. He has hit 63 pts once and 53 another year, but most years are in the 40s. He is listed as 6’2″ 205lbs, so he’s bigger than Gagner but not heavier by much (Gagner plays at 202 lbs). The biggest difference is the age. Legwands is 33YO and Sam is just a pup. Legwand’s cap hit is 4.5m, Gagner’s is 4.8m.

          Is trading Sam Gagner for Legwand (Contingent on Re-signing here in EDM for 4 years) worth doing? I think it would be a mistake but Legwand is the better player. Tough call!

          • Tikkanese

            That’s a lot of risk to take on. I think Nashville would jump at that chance. Simply because they have Forsburgh to take over as their big second line C. Gagner gives that team a lot of depth up the middle and he could really thrive in a system like that.

            If Legwand doesn’t resign here though, that kind of screw the team. Although I guess Arco could fill in for the mean time.

            Yeah, I’d make that deal. And I think it would be a good deal for both teams.

    • A-Mc

      Niskanen is good but he’s tiny, or appears that way (Although he’s listed as 6′ and 209 lbs… I was watching him in last nights game and he comes across as just a little guy. I think size is a big factor for us because we have almost none, so i might pass on a guy like niskanen (unless the $$ is right).

      • Tikkanese

        I know that ‘hard to play against’ factor has been missing for a while. But honestly I am less concerned with the crushing hits than I am with smart positional play, good stick work, good IQ, a good outlet pass, and having the size to win a puck battle against all the hard forechecking teams in our division. Not sure if Niskanin is the guy but I also think something might be better than status quo.

        Again, I’d personally rather get a Yandle Orpik kind of combo (especially because that gives us 4 L shots and 3 R shots.

        I have a feeling though Mact T will do the predictable thing and be unpredictable.

        • A-Mc

          When i talk about size, I’m not too concerned with the crushing hits either. I’m more concerned with the fact that it’s much harder to play against someone who is bigger and stronger than you are. Many of our guys aren’t big enough to push a guy off the puck and so we’re reduced to stick duty and reaching in. Bigger guys don’t have to do that as much as they can literally just push guys off the puck to separate the two.

          IMO the need for size has more to do with forcing the other team to have to Move around bigger players instead of smaller guys that get skated Through.

          • A-Mc

            Good call. It always bugged me how easy it was to muscle Pajaarvi off the puck. Bug player who don’t use their size drive me crazy. Is Niskanin one of these guys?

  • A-Mc

    Brooks Orpik: 33YO, 6’2″ 219lbs defenseman. Salary: 3.75M/yr
    Nikita Nikitin: 27YO, 6’4″ 223 lbs defenseman. Salary: 2.15M/yr

    Let go of Potter, NSchultz (Trade them at the deadline for picks. Maybe pickup a 3rd rounder to replace the one we used for Scrivens).

    Sign Orpik, Nikita to decent salaries (Even if they are over paid a bit) and Belov as a re-up.

    Your Blueline looks like this:

    Orpik / Petry
    Ference / JSchultz
    Nikitin / Belov

    Not bad in the Size department! The average Height is 6’2.5″ Avg Weight is 202.5lbs. Justin Schultz and Marincin are still growing and Petry still needs to put on a bit of weight, so that will go up.

    ——Ht(In) Weight
    Orpik 74 219
    Nikitin 76 223
    Belov 76 218
    Petry 75 195
    Jschultz 74 188
    Ferrence 71 187
    Marincin 76 188

    • Jonny88

      Was at the game against the nucks in Vancouver last night…

      All 4 lines looked good! I’m going to eat my words here but Hendricks brings so much energy, physicality, and hustle to Jones and Gordon!

      I dont liltlike these pick ups that you proposed bc you put Marincin on the outside looking in. With the way he looks since being brought up…..it would be a dam shame to put him behind someone like Orpik. Marincin (it still early to tell for sure) looks like the real deal. He was physical, he didn’t let good strong forwards like Kesler, or the Sedins have any space and was strong on the boards.

      Marincin needs to be allowed to develop. And it looks like he is taking this opportunity. When Nurse, Gernat and Musil come around (hopefully) and with possibly Ekblad in the mix defence looks in good hands.

      My opinion is to bring in an experienced and strong leader in on D. Ference is not the leader of the D or this team.

  • toprightcorner

    Nikitin would be a great add but I am not sold that he is a definite top pairing on his own. He will need a better partner to succeed at the top pairing role. If MacT can add a bonified top pairing dman and Nikitin I beleive the teams defensive woes will forever be in the rearview mirror.

    Can’t wait to see the rest of your solution series LT!!

  • Tikkanese

    We surely need an experienced top pairing defenseman, if not two.

    With so many rookies possibly ready to make the jump this year or next, we need a few stop gap D to spread those numbers out.

    Marincin, Fedun and Nurse are strong possibilities to be ready next year. Marincin and Fedun are both arguably ready now. Not to mention Klefbom and Ekblad(if we draft him). There is also the possibility of near rookies Larsen and Belov coming back as well.

    I can’t see the Oilers contending for the playoffs with so many “green” NHL’ers.

    For me, on paper at least, Fedun should be the only one to make the jump next year. Given his college experience and two years in the AHL he is the most seasoned and ready. Marincin so far looks ready but can the Oilers contend with two or more rookie defensemen in the lineup? Another year in the AHL for Marincin & Klefbom and junior for Nurse won’t hurt them.

    • pkam

      Why would Edm play Marincin 40+ games this year then send him back to the AHL next year?

      I think Ference JSchultz Marincin and Klefbom will be our botton 4 next year

    • Romulus' Apotheosis

      They actually have a long history together in Omsk and played on a pairing at the last world championship.

      If they target Nikitin, they’ll probably re-sign Belov.

      • Johnnydapunk

        Nikitin and Belov seem eerily similar as their stats, size and age are very close. I do hope that the Oil offer Belov another deal as I think he has shown potential and I believe that now he understands the NHL and the fitness requirements as well as the game a bit more, he will become a pretty valuable asset to the team.

        I am aware that players already have a high fitness level, but in an interview with Belov, he did admit that the NHL schedule is quite exhausting compared to the KHL, I don’t think the visa issues he had (due to striking embassy officials) helped him much either.

        I wouldn’t say no to seeing Nikitin in the Oil blue, though I hope that he isn’t looked at as a #1D man as that would be a stretch.

        I don’t know what his situation in Columbus is, but if the Oil can get him for picks and/or a low end prospect, he may be worth a shot. Again that all depends on Columbus if they feel he or they will resign him or not.

      • Chainsawz

        Sorry man, you’ve been harping about Nikitin for a while here and on your blog, but we need a 4/5/6 defenceman the way the Sahara needs another grain of sand.

  • pkam

    Looking at our d-core for next year, we need to fill 2 spots, assuming we sign our RFA’s: Ference, Petry, J. Schultz and Marincin.

    If we can somehow get a top-pairing guy who can eat a lot of minutes, then someone like Nikitin could fill that 2nd spot on the 3rd pairing.

    So ???-Petry, Ference-Schulz, Marincin-Nikitin.

    It really just comes down to whether or not we can get a guy to eat minutes and make life easier on the rest of the guys.

  • Carlos Danger

    I would really like it if we signed some players through their 27-32 years. I feel that this is the perfect balance between mental and physical ability not having the stats to back it up.

  • D


    Is it worthwhile for the Oil to pursue an interim strategy of defense by committee, allowing the kids up front to carry the load with more offense, in the hopes that one of Nurse/Ekblad develop into a top pairing D?

  • oilslick

    The Shea Weber crowd needs to realize that we are not getting him from the Preds, especially with the ridiculous trade proposals you guys are making. David Poille is a smart man and if he ever entertained the idea of trading a bonafide franchise blueliner like Weber, do you not think there would be other teams in line? The Oilers would have to offer an arm and a leg with a few high end escorts to get him and then they would be lacking players in other areas because of that. Le Femme NIkita would be a start to fix the back end.

  • Jonny88

    GM Craig MacTavish needs to improve the Oilers blue line we all know this, We’d all love a big strong number one guy back there. The fact is we probably are not getting one… But this summer we can add players that will help us. Yes we will have too over pay but hopefully it will get us out of being a 30th place team. The Oilers need to add 3 defense men this off-season my top 4 guys to get are.

    1)Dan Girardi Height: 6-1 Weight: 203lbs
    he will be the number one on the market this summer if he goes on the market

    2)Nikita Nikitin Height: 6-3 Weight: 217lbs
    love what LT wrote today i will add that he is a plus 10 this year, we all know we need plus players!

    3)Matt Greene Height: 6-3 Weight: 232lbs
    Yes he is a ex-Oilers but a player that’s big, mean and nasty perfect in our 4th hole with maybe Justin Schultz.

    4)Brooks Orpik Height: 6-2 Weight: 219lbs
    would be good cause he knows how to win and is a little dirty which we need.

    I’m sorry i don’t think the Oilers need another small d man like Matt Niskanen,Tom Gilbert and Andrew MacDonald not saying they’re bad players because they aren’t, we just have players like them already!

  • Carlos Danger

    Great article imo. Lots of numbers that I don’t “REALLY” need, but to the numbers geeks those are good too. I’ve often wondered where we can pick up a #1/2 guy and this series will be interesting to read!

  • Chainsawz


    The only place Vrbata has expeirenced consistent success is in Phoenix. Even if he goes past July 1st, I’d bet he resigns there at less than market.

    • Serious Gord

      I’m kind of thinking that too. My magical mind deal was structured in kind of a way that lets Phoenix not let the guy go for nothing. THe real prize is Yandle and to get him we’re essentially giving up Yak, a good prospect, and helping them avoid a situation where they get nothing for Vrbata. I don’t think he’s so integral there that they feel like they’re losing something. If he doesn’t resign here, well again, the whole point was to get Yandle.

      I honestly would much rather have Callahan or Downie for that role.

  • Jonny88

    Nikitin seems like he would be another bandaid solution who would be forced to play more minutes Edmonton against tougher competition and with less support. I think he would be an upgrade but how much of one remains to be seen. Maybe if J. Schultz takes a big leap next year then a stay-at-home guy like Nikitin might be a good fit as his partner.