Back in May, Ron Hextall made a move to sign Russian defensive star Evgeny Medvedev. At the time, it was seen as a potentially positive move for the Flyers defense that could add a level of skill that the blue line hadn’t had the past season. There were a lot of question marks that came with Medvedev though. The 32-year-old had spent his whole career in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) and the last 8 seasons on Kazan Ak-Bars. Concerns were raised about Medvedev’s age and his ability to transition to the North American game played on smaller rinks.
So far, Medvedev has been the Flyers best defenseman; the risk that Hextall took with the Russian has paid off so far. Around th same time, there were reports that Hextall was trying to sign another Russian defenseman in young Nikita Zaitsev.
Zaitsev, 23, is an undrafted, right-handed shooting defenseman who eliteprospects.com describes as someone who “plays a smart two-way game. He is a fine passer and has a good shot from the point. Could improve his physical game and add some bulk.”
At one point, it was reported that the Flyers were very close to persuading Zaitsev to leave his CSKA Moscow team and join the Flyers. A different report had him actually signing with the Toronto Maple Leafs for a day until his agent told everyone otherwise.
After a few months, Zaitsev has found his way back into the NHL conversation. Sportsnet.cs’s Emily Sadler writes that more teams have taken notice of Zaitsev; mainly the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, and LA Kings.
It has been reported that he will be coming to the wonderful land of the NHL next season, as this is the last season of his current contract Sadler writes:
“Several teams — the Toronto Maple Leafs, Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks among them — will fly overseas to see him play in a tournament next week. The Philadelphia Flyers and Los Angeles Kings are also said to have a strong interest in the 24-year-old. Friedman also noted that some teams are already in the process of meeting with him.”
Now that means that all of those other teams are late to the party. The Flyers have had an interest in Zaitsev since 2013. In an old article from Bill Meltzer, the Flyers interest in the defenseman is more thoroughly looked at:
As the article states, the Flyers were perhaps the first NHL team to take serious notice — although I suspect that part of his decision a few years ago to stay in Russia may have been a disinterest in potentially having to work his way up from the Phantoms to get an NHL roster spot.
And there’s even more evidence of the Flyers interest going back to 2010.
“My favorite interviews were the ones with Philadelphia and Chicago,” Zaytsev said pertaining to his draft combine meetings,” because these teams were interested in me a lot”
Back in May, Hfboards user FeelDaPuck (a pretty reliable source if you can believe it from that name) posted a confirmation that Medvedev was able to get out of his contract with the KHL to join the Flyers two hours before it was officially announced. In that same post this bit of information was posted:
“Now, in other news (and that’s on a 70/30 scale – Zaytsev Nikita (CSKA) is coming to camp this year, allegedly. I don’t think he would without a contract in place).”
This is also the same guy who has called multiple national signings, the biggest being Nikolai Zherdev in 2011.
What do we know about our Savior, Messiah, and our current GM Ron Hextall? He moves in silence. No one knows what he does behind closed doors, Look at the Grossmann, Pronger Contract for Gagner and a 3rd. The Zac Rinaldo for a 3rd, and all his free agent signings he did over the summer. Not one of those moves were even thought about, but it was done. And nothing Hextall does is for the “win now” attitude that constantly damages the future. Zaitsev would be a cheap, young addition to the lineup that would greatly upgrade the defense. Zaitsev also has the skill set to thrive in Hakstol’s offensive defense system.
@ETSPhilly key is its a relatively inexpensive and young piece hes looking at. Not some over the hill overpriced player.
— Jake (@J_Fahringer) November 1, 2015
This also makes one of the “Big 5” defensive prospects expendable, but which one? If any of the 5 become expendable, in my honest opinion it will be Robert Hagg. But what could we get for him? If he were to become expendable the Flyers could hypothetically use him to fill an offensive need.
So should we rule out this speculation? Absolutely not. I could see Nikita Zaitsev in the orange and black. It is very possible, but only time will tell if it will happen.