BUFFALO – Naturally, Russia recently put Sabres defenseman Nikita Zadorov on its preliminary roster for the upcoming world junior championship. The country has nothing to lose by adding the 19-year-old’s name.
The Sabres, of course, can keep Zadorov if they want.
But would they actually let Zadorov, who skates more than 20 minutes some nights beside Rasmus Ristolainen, join his country for the tournament?
“I just read it for the first time myself that he was on the list,” Sabres coach Ted Nolan said this morning inside the First Niagara Center. “You can’t blame Russia for putting him on the list. But it one of those things we never even discussed.”
The chances of Zadorov leaving the Sabres for a few weeks are slim. They’re 7-8-1 with him and 2-8-1 when he’s scratched.
Zadorov, who began playing regularly just five weeks ago, would be happy with either team.
“I would like to stay here and play here because it’s NHL, best league in the world,” Zadorov said. “I have ice time, I’m playing a lot. They trust me on the ice.”
He added: “Other way, I love my country. I’m ready to go play for my country any time. It’s not my decision. It doesn’t matter what I want.”
Zadorov left his junior club last season to play for Russia.
“It was fun,” he said. “World junior every time is fun.”
Nolan knows the tournament can be beneficial.
“When you’re a teenager, you don’t get those teenage years back,” he said.
Ristolainen left Rochester last year and scored the gold-medal winning goal for Finland.
The experience changed his career.
“You look at his development from that point on to coming back this year, he was almost like a totally different player when he came to camp,” Nolan said. “He came with his shoulders up a little bit more, a little bit more swagger to his walk. He didn’t come here hoping to play on our team; he came here knowing he was going to play on our team.”
The Sabres let center prospect Mikhail Grigorenko leave the NHL to play for Russia last season. Grigorenko was a regular scratch back then, however. The Sabres desperately wanted him to get playing time somewhere.