Monday, September 3, 2012

What to Expect From: Nikita Nikitin

In this series, we're going to go through each player, examine what they have been able to produce in the past and what it would be reasonable to expect from them in the coming season, mostly using logic. The goal is to have a statistical expectation for the team as a whole, to see how well they might fare in 2012-13. This is an alternative to just throwing your hands up in the air, crying, drinking excessively (although this activity doesn't exclude drinking) and playing russian roulette alone in my basement all summer.

The thirteenth player in our series is "Nikki Six", Nikita Nikitin.

Originally when I moved to Columbus, I was really excited to see Kris Russell play in person. Back in Canada, you may know how big a deal the World Juniors are, and Russell was a guy who stuck in my mind as being a standout defenseman at the WJC, earning gold back in 2006 and 2007. He wasn't big or mean, but he could move well and make good decisions with and without the puck.

More over the jump.

Well you can probably guess what happened with that. Russell was lukewarm at best and never really seemed to reach the heights that many had imagined he would soar to and he was shipped off to Ken Hitchcock's St. Louis Blues in exchange for a guy who most, if not all CBJ fans had never heard of: Nikita Nikitin. Some were angry at the clear loss in the trade when it came to pure name-recognition, but many of us had grown weary of Russell's "promise" and were cautiously optimistic about the new pickup.

Nikitin's origins are a little odd in that a) he was a russian selected by the St. Louis Blues and b) he waited five years after his draft year (2004) to jump ship from the KHL. His time in St. Louis didn't seem that spectacular from a statistical standpoint and when he was traded, it was rumored that Nikitin found himself in Hitchcock's doghouse and not getting the opportunities he had hoped for when he crossed the ocean.

The fan optimism appears to have been well-founded, as Nikitin has come in and basically been 180% of the defenseman that Russell had ever been in Columbus. He was a curious figure at first, tall and thick (6'3", 217lbs according to the Blue Jackets) and he looks a bit awkward out on the ice with a kind of lumber to his stride. Not to say that he's terribly slow, just funny-looking. Anyway, he was an immediate contributor, putting up assists in each of his first three games and he continued to find a serious comfort zone alongside elder countryman Fedor Tyutin. He was showcasing some serious skill that is hard to find in one package. He could throw his weight around in our zone, lean on opposing forwards hoping to find a parking spot and although he isn't classically tough, Nikitin wasn't backing down from any rough stuff. On the offensive side of things, he has a pretty ridiculous shot that was unleashed regularly on the PP, scoring 3 of his eventual 7 goals while manning the blue line on the PP. He was able to put up 25 assists through 54 games, the most glorious of which you can find here.  Nikitin also managed to be a -5 on last year's team and averaged over 23 minutes of ice time per night.

This summer, he cemented himself in the CBJ lineup by signing a two year contract for almost the same rate as Adrian Aucoin, at $4.3m over those two years. This really indicates both an overpayment of Aucoin and an underpayment of Nikitin, which is usually expected in an RFA year.

Here are his stats from hockeydb:

Regular SeasonPlayoffs
2003-04Omsk AvangardRussia10000----------
2004-05Omsk AvangardRussia16000460000
2005-06Omsk AvangardRussia4112324131236
2006-07Omsk AvangardRussia54115161011105539
2007-08Omsk AvangardRussia57310134840112
2008-09Omsk AvangardKHL534121628791238
2009-10Omsk AvangardKHL43491314-330000
2010-11St. Louis BluesNHL41189101----------
2010-11Peoria RivermenAHL2231114121----------
2011-12St. Louis BluesNHL70004-5----------
2011-12Columbus Blue JacketsNHL547253214-5----------
NHL Totals1028334128

So if you take a look, you'll notice that he's never cracked double digits in goals, although most of his seasons have been short KHL ones. You also may notice that his assist total last year was a career high.  At 26 years old, it seems strange that he had all this innate passing ability languishing in Missouri but flourishing when he came to the worst team in the NHL.

We can partially explain this by referring to the leap forward he took in ice time and subsequent opportunities. In St. Louis, he was getting closer to 20 minutes a night which is a lot for a guy who was considered to be "buried" on the bench, but the extra three minutes can't really account for all of this. Honestly, the main other factor that I would consider is the other defenseman he was playing with, Fedor Tyutin. Toots is seriously underrated and may end up being the real workhorse of the pair who allowed Nikitin the time and space to play his game to maximum effectiveness.

When trying to project what Nikitin will be able to contribute in the coming year, I think the stability of the russian pairing is essential and we have every reason to believe that these two will continue to play together and the ice time should stay roughly the same, both on even strength and odd-man situations. Hopefully Nikki will be able to maintain his current rate of production.

Prediction for Nikita Nikitin in 2012-13: 9G, 38A for 47 Pts if he can play a full 82 game season with Tyutin.

another intellectually stimulating discussion on economic policy, no doubt.

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