Toronto Maple Leafs Prospect of Interest: Nikita Zaitsev

Dec 15, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; The Toronto Maple Leafs logo at center ice before the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Air Canada Centre. The Lightning beat the Maple Leafs 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 15, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; The Toronto Maple Leafs logo at center ice before the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Air Canada Centre. The Lightning beat the Maple Leafs 5-4. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports /

With the news that the Toronto Maple Leafs have recently acquired Nikita Zaitsev from CSKA Moscow of the KHL, here is a scouting report on the defenceman.

As per a report from Elliot Friedman, Nikita Zaitsev is apparently set to sign for the Toronto Maple Leafs. This is quite a coup for Brendan Shanahan and Lou Lamoriello:

This is an absolutely fantastic get by the rebuilding Maple Leafs, and it is nice to see they still have some appeal to players around the world. Zaitsev is a highly-rated prospect who we have kept an eye on ever since the Leafs were first rumored to be at the top of his list.

To get a player who had standing offers from the Kings, Penguins, Rangers, and Kings is very impressive. Let’s break down Zaitsev, who we predict will be wearing the blue and white come next September.

Nikita Zaitsev: CSKA Moscow (KHL) – Right Defenseman – 6’2 205 Pounds

2015-2016 Statistics:

41 Games Played   6 Goals   18 Assists   24 Points   +21   20 Penalty Minutes

Scouting report:

Size: Very good. Zaitsev is pretty much the perfect size for what you are looking for in a top 4 defenceman at the NHL level.

He has added some thickness over the years. With his low centre of gravity (common in Russians) combined with his very solid lower body, he is rarely knocked off the puck.

This allows for Zaitsev to rarely lose physical battles in front of the net or in the corners. While he isn’t a defenceman who is going to beat you up all night like a Chris Pronger, size will not be an issue.

4 out of 5

Shot: This is arguably his best attribute. When you watch game tape of Zaitsev, his shot stands out. While he doesn’t possess an extremely heavy shot like Zdeno Chara or P.K. Subban, he does possess a really quick release and he always finds a way to get through traffic.

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Zaitsev’s shot is reminiscent of Cody Franson. The former Leafs was always applauded for having a quick release and a half slap shot that was extremely effective on the Power Play, often finding its way through traffic or easily being tipped in front.

Another very underrated attribute of Zaitsev’s game is that he is a right-handed shot. This is very important and often understated on a Mike Babcock-coached team.

Going into next season, the only right-hand shot defenceman under contract would be Frank Corrado, a player Babcock clearly isn’t fond of. Zaitsev would by default be gifted with top 4 minutes and power play time almost immediately, barring any obscene trades or signings this offseason.

4.5 out of 5

Skating: Skating isn’t an integral part of Zaitsev’s game like an Erik Karlsson, Jake Gardiner, or Duncan Keith. However, he is effective at skating his way through the neutral zone with the puck on his stick.

The thing that stands out with Zaitsev is his positioning; playing on international ice often forces defencemen to read the open spaces on the ice and anticipate where to be. With Zaitsev, he always seems to be in a position to make a play on the puck.

While he doesn’t have elite foot speed, he can surely get coached up to a point where it shouldn’t be a deterrent for him succeeding in the NHL. A summer working with arguably the best skating coach in the NHL, Barbara Underhill, should really help too.

3.75 out of 5

Competitiveness: Good. Zaitsev would definitely be described as a two-way defenceman.

Not only offensively gifted, Zaitsev also is very responsible in his own end, and willing to battle in the corners for the puck. He isn’t the meanest player but his lack of physicality, while a concern, isn’t something that should inhibit him from being a reliable top 4 defenceman next year.

4 out of 5

Hockey IQ: The best word to describe Zaitsev would be safe; he is aware of his limitations and doesn’t try to play a style that doesn’t suit his game.He is the opposite of a Gardiner in that respect.

While Gardiner’s style is that of a river boat gambler, Zaitsev is a lot safer, generally making the correct play. Nothing about his game is fancy, and for the Leafs, that is exactly the type of player they are looking for.

3.75 out of 5

Final Verdict: Zaitsev will be a terrific addition to this Leafs team. Babcock will be jumping for joy at this signing.

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Jan 21, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock laughs on the bench against the Carolina Hurricanes the at the Air Canada Centre. Carolina defeated Toronto 1-0 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports /

Being able to get a good prospect for nothing while also paying him an entry level deal is always a low risk/ high reward type of signing many teams try to make. Zaitsev will fit right in with the Leafs, due to the organization’s severe lack of depth when it comes to defenceman (especially right-shot defencemen).

Should Zaitsev have a good summer of training in Toronto working on adding bulk and on his skating, he could play 20 minutes a night and put up some decent numbers, as well as playing important minutes on the power play and penalty kill. My prediction for next season is he gets seven goals and 23 assists for 30 points.

Player Comparable: When watching Zaitsev, two former Leafs defencemen come to mind: Tomas Kaberle and Franson. Kaberle, because although he isn’t extremely gifted at one particular thing, he does a lot of things well and has a really calming game on the back end.

The major part of Franson’s game to see in Zaitsev is the shot. They both have incredible half slap shots/wrist shots that have a very quick release and always find a way through traffic, a reason why both are major contributors on the power play.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of watching Zaitsev play, here is a quick little snippet of what the Leafs are getting moving forward.

What do you think of the signing? Let us know in the comments section below.