Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Nikita Zaitsev

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TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 25: Nikita Zaitsev #22 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Montreal Canadiens during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on February 25, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Canadiens defeated the Maple Leafs 3-2 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Nikita Zaitsev is one of the Toronto Maple Leafs top defencemen. The 25-year-old was signed to a one-year entry level contract in the spring of 2016. One year later, the Maple Leafs were impressed enough to extend Zaitsev’s contract by seven years.

Toronto Maple Leafs Roster Preview, 50-in-50: Nikita Zaitsev

Nikita Zaitsev was chosen fourth overall in the 2009 KHL Junior Draft.  He immediately made the jump to the KHL playing four seasons with Novosibirsk Sibir. Zaitsev won a gold medal for Russia at the 2011 World Junior Championship in Buffalo in dramatic fashion. After being down 3-0 against the Canadians, Russia stormed back in the third period scoring five goals. It would be the greatest comeback in World Junior Hockey Championship history.

Despite these early successes, Zaitsev was not drafted or signed by any NHL team. In 2013 he signed with CSKA Moscow and after three more successful seasons, he caught the eye of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Statistically Speaking (via HockeyReference)

During his 2016-17 rookie season, Zaitsev put up 36 points playing in all 82 regular season games and he also averaged 22:01 in ice time per game. This ranks him third among rookie NHL defence in points and first in time-on-ice. Perhaps more importantly, Zaitsev finished second in both points amongst defencemen and ice-time on the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Playing heavy minutes, both at even strength and on the power play, Zaitsev cemented himself in the Leafs top four where he was paired mostly with Morgan Rielly. On most nights, these two were depended upon to shut down the oppositions best players, although with mixed results. Zaitsev finished the season with an even strength CF% (Corsi-For %) of 49.4 and a relative CF% (Corsi-For relative %) of -1.8. This compares with his main partner Rielly who had a CF% of 50.4 and a relative CF% of 0.0.

Profile (via EliteProspects)

Age: 25

Position: RHD

Height: 6’2″

Weight: 194 lbs

Draft: Undrafted, Signed on May 2, 2016, by Toronto

Contract (via CapFriendly)

Nikita Zaitsev signed a seven-year, $4.5 million contract on May 2, 2017, with the Toronto Maple Leafs. As a 25-year old, coming off a very successful rookie campaign, the Maple Leafs decided to lock up Zaitsev long-term. With this kind of money and term, the Leafs are clearly expecting Zaitsev to continue in his high profile role on the blueline and consider him to be a part of their core going forward.

He receives a base salary of $1.5 million in years one through three, along with a $3 million signing bonus. In years four and five, Zaitsev makes a base salary of $4.5 million with no signing bonus. Then, in the final two years, he will make $2.5 million in base salary and receive a $2 million signing bonus.

Interestingly, Zaitsev has a no trade clause that kicks in two seasons. This clause limits the number of teams he can be traded to, as he can submit a list of 10 clubs that he will not accept a trade to.

2017-18 Season

The Toronto Maple Leafs will expect more from Nikita Zaitsev in the upcoming season, especially on the defensive side of the puck. Head coach Mike Babcock will want to improve the Leafs defence after last season. Splitting up Rielly and Zaitsev appears to be part of the plan. Zaitsev to have a new partner this year, most likely Jake Gardiner, while Rielly will likely play with newly signed Ron Hainsey.

Nikita Zaitsev should continue to provide offence for the Toronto Maple Leafs both at even strength and on the power play. Defensively, they will expect a step forward in his sophomore season. Expectations will be high for the team this year and Zaitsev will be a key player for the Leafs.

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images

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