BUFFALO – Ask Ted Nolan about playing teenagers in the NHL, and the Sabres coach will tell you very few possess the maturity to play there at such a young age.
On Friday, Nolan was asked if the Sabres could potentially play the two 19-year-olds on the blue line this season.
“Rasmus is one of those kids that looks like he doesn’t want to go anywhere but stay here in Buffalo,” Nolan said inside the First Niagara Center.
Then Nolan got to Nikita Zadorov, a prospect the Sabres grabbed 16th overall, eight spots after taking Ristolainen.
“Zadorov, it’s almost completely opposite, where he needs a little bit more time,” Nolan said about the 6-foot-5, 238-pound Russian. “But is he too big for junior? Is he too strong for junior? Who knows? I think that’s what training camp is all about, evaluate on a daily basis and put him in some games.”
The hard-hitting Zadorov made his seven NHL appearances last season under former coach Ron Rolston. Nolan scratched him before sending him back to the Ontario Hockey League’s London Knights.
“Zadorov’s one of those kids we have nurture, we have to work on, we have to teach, we have to coach,” Nolan said. “Maybe he needs just a little bit more attention that someone else.”
Zadorov has been skating beside Mark Pysyk in training camp.
“Zadorov is one of those kids that has a tremendous amount of skill,” Nolan said. “We have to somehow try to tap into it, and sometimes you put him with a veteran guy to lead that way for him.”
Whatever happens to Zadorov – remember, he can’t go to the AHL, he can only be sent to junior – he won’t be given a spot because he’s a prospect.
“We want to demonstrate to these young kids that they have to earn their positions, not just give it to them,” Nolan said. “If you want a successful organization, I think that’s how it has to be. He’s going to earn a spot.
“We’re going to be hard on him some days. We’re going to be easy on him some days. He’s … got a very special set of tools that we have to tap into.”