Shortly after creating cap space by trading winger Anthony Beauvillier to the Chicago Blackhawks for a fifth-round pick, Vancouver Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin turned around and used that cap space to upgrade the team's defence.
On Thursday, the Canucks traded a third-round pick and the fifth-round pick acquired in the Beauvillier trade to the Calgary Flames for defenceman Nikita Zadorov. The third-round pick isn't until the 2026 NHL Entry Draft.
The big Russian defenceman had been on the trade block for a few weeks after requesting a trade from the Flames. The Flames had previously acquired Zadorov as a restricted free agent in 2021 for a third-round pick, so the price since then only went up slightly despite Zadorov playing well for the Flames, scoring 14 goals last season.
The trade comes just one day after Allvin said to the Canucks media, "Do I think we need another defenseman? I think we can get help on the back end, yes."
The Flames might have been hoping for a better price for Zadorov, with several reports indicating they were looking for a player who could contribute immediately on their roster. Earlier this month, Sportsnet's Luke Fox reported that, "If draft picks were the only cost, the Leafs or Canucks would have acquired Zadorov 'weeks ago.'"
Allvin playing the waiting game evidently softened the Flames' stance.
"Nikita is a big, strong and mobile two-way defenceman who will bring more physicality to our backend," said Allvin in a press release. "We really like his size and reach and his addition to our blueline gives us more depth and better options moving forward."
Zadorov provides an immediate upgrade to the Canucks' defence corps in the absence of Carson Soucy. Like Soucy, Zadorov is a left-shot defenceman who can also play on the right side, giving the coaching staff some versatility with how they deploy their lineup.
The Canucks could slot Zadorov in on the third pairing behind Ian Cole or move him to the right side with Cole on the second pairing. The latter would likely bump either Mark Friedman or Noah Juulsen out of the lineup.
The 6'6" Zadorov is known for his physical game, with a propensity for throwing crushing hits, sometimes of questionable legality. He has the 16th-most hits among NHL defencemen over the last three seasons.
When he's not taking the body, he's typically taking penalties. Over the last three seasons, Zadorov has taken the third-most minor penalties among NHL defencemen, making his physical game a distinctly double-edged sword.
Zadorov has also historically had some issues with puck management and turning the puck over, but his excellent mobility makes him decent in transition. He's an exceptional skater, particularly for his size, and can catch opponents off-guard with his speed. Given that puck management is a major emphasis for Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet and his staff, that element of his game is likely something they'll be focusing on.
Offensively, Zadorov has a strong shot, though his 14-goal outburst last season is an anomaly in his career. His previous career high was 7 goals with the Colorado Avalanche. He can create some offence with his skating, either in transition with his speed or by creating space with his shiftiness at the blue line.
In terms of overall impact, Zadorov is a net positive aside from the number of penalties he takes. He's generally better in his own end of the ice than in the offensive zone and has the size and strength to clear the crease in front of his goaltender and to win battles along the boards.
There are several questions remaining to be answered after this trade. Are the Canucks done upgrading their defence? Will they still pursue Ethan Bear after he recovers from his injury? How will the Canucks deploy their defence when Carson Soucy returns?
There are also questions about how Zadorov will fit with the Canucks. Given their below-average penalty kill, is a penalty-prone defenceman the right answer for the Canucks? Is Zadorov a potential top-four defenceman or is he more akin to a left-shot Tyler Myers?
Then there are the long-term questions. Zadorov is a pending unrestricted free agent. Acquiring him this early on gives the Canucks three-quarters of a season with Zadorov after the trade — a sort of long-term rental. Will they look to re-sign him? How much will that cost?
For now, those questions can be kicked down the road. In the immediate future, Zadorov should make the Canucks a better, more physical team.