The Kontinental Hockey League is not the laughingstock it used to be to the NHL. While there is little question that the top professional league in Russia is an overall inferior product to the NHL, that hasn’t stopped some top Russian players recently from bolting the NHL for their homeland.
There is a chance Avalanche defenseman Nikita Zadorov could be next.
Although sources tell BSNDenver that Zadorov prefers to re-sign with the Avalanche as a restricted free agent, if it comes down to pure dollars (or, in this case, Rubles), he very likely could make more in the KHL in the short term. Zadorov, probably the key addition for the Avs in the trade that sent Ryan O’Reilly to Buffalo in 2015, is just the kind of hometown kid the KHL wants to lure back from North America, to better bolster the product for fans.
Already this spring, the KHL has lured one promising young defenseman back from the NHL – Nikita Traymkin, who spent this past season with the Vancouver Canucks. Traymkin, a 6-foot-7 D-man, stunned the Canucks with his decision. Vancouver also lost another young prospect, Phillip Larsen, to the KHL. Last year, the KHL convinced Detroit star Pavel Datsyuk to forego to the final year of his contract to come home.
While the KHL can’t compete with NHL teams for overall depth of team salaries, it can offer competitive or better offers for top players, preferably from the homeland. Zadorov, while not established yet as an NHL star, fits the bill of the kind of player the league wants.
Zadorov, 22, can be a restricted free agent July 1. He made $894,167 this past season with the Avs. Though his statistics have yet to wow anyone, he did play well for the Avs before suffering a fractured ankle in February and missing the rest of the season. A former first-round selection of Buffalo, Zadorov was seen as the top asset coming back from the O’Reilly trade, though forward J.T. Compher could prove the best player in the deal before long.
The Avs have nearly $20 million in cap space right now, so they should be able to overpay some for Zadorov if the KHL forces their hand. But players such as Zadorov are easier prey for KHL teams to lure back. As an RFA, Zadorov can’t break the bank with the Avs, but the KHL is under no restriction in offering him as much as they want.