BUFFALO – Sabres defenseman Nikita Zadorov is staying put. Coach Ted Nolan said Monday the 19-year-old Russian has earned a roster spot.
After playing seven straight games, including a 25-minute outing Thursday, it was assumed the Sabres would keep him.
“I try not to assume, but I’m more than positive he’s earned his keep,” Nolan said inside the First Niagara Center.
Tonight’s tilt against the San Jose Sharks will be Zadorov’s ninth game. His contract activates with a 10th appearance.
Zadorov, the No. 16 pick in 2013, has endured a long road to regular duty. He was scratched the first seven games and 11 of the first 12.
The Sabres were essentially stashing him because he needed a release from his Russian club to return to junior. But with nothing to lose, Nolan inserted him Nov. 2.
He hasn’t left the lineup since.
“He was benched and scratched at the rookie camp at Traverse City,” Nolan said. “So no one gave him the benefit of the doubt of making this team. We worked at it. We worked with him. Things are really working out.”
Zadorov and 20-year-old Rasmus Ristolainen, a youngster the Sabres drafted eight spots earlier two years ago, have formed a steady duo. In Thursday’s 6-3 loss in Minnesota, they combined for a plus-5 rating.
The Sabres have beaten the Sharks, one of the NHL’s top teams for years, seven straight times. They won 2-1 on Oct. 25 in San Jose.
“I didn’t know about that record until somebody pointed it out our last game down in San Jose,” Nolan said. “For whatever reason, we just got the lucky breaks those nights.”
The Sharks have won one game in Buffalo since they joined the NHL in 1991, a 5-0 win Dec. 2, 2005, superstar Joe Thornton’s first game with San Jose.
Nolan said the Sabres will use the same lineup tonight that beat Toronto 6-2 on Saturday. Goalie Michal Neuvirth will start.