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Get to Know a Maple Leaf: Nikita Zaitsev

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As part of the build-up to the first-round playoff series between the Capitals and the Maple Leafs, Japers' Rink will be looking at some of the important Leafs players and how they might impact the series.

NHL: Washington Capitals at Toronto Maple Leafs Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Nikita Zaitsev

#22 / Defense / Toronto Maple Leafs

Height: 6-2 | Weight: 195 | Born: October 29, 1991

Birthplace: Moscow, Russia | Drafted: Undrafted


  • Assets: Owns a good frame for the NHL game, plus excellent puck-moving ability. Can be an asset on special teams and has excellent passing ability. Produces solid offensive totals and can log huge minutes.
  • Flaws: Could stand to add more bulk to his 6-2 frame, especially for the rigors of the National Hockey League schedule, in order to maximize output in the NHL.Also, he is not an overly physical defenseman.
  • Career Potential: Quality, all-around defenseman with a little upside.

Career 20-Game Rolling Five-on-Five CF% (via Corsica):

2016-17 Usage Chart (via Corsica):

Why you should know who he is: Zaitsev, undrafted in the NHL, was signed to a Entry Level contract by Toronto last summer after posting 26 points for CSKA Moscow in the KHL (46 GP). This year in Toronto Zaitsev was able to replicate that offensive success, posting an impressive 36 points in his rookie season. His offensive success, however, is tempered by his -22 rating, which was the lowest mark on the Maple Leafs’ team this season.

How the Caps can stop him: Washington will need to put the puck into Zaitsev’s corner and crash his half of the ice in the offensive zone. The rookie has never played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it would be in Washington’s best interest to introduce Zaitsev to postseason play with a solid thumping at home during the series’ first two games (that is, if he plays at all).

Most of the Capitals’ forwards match up against Zaitsev nicely and they should look to make the Russian rearguard’s defensive responsibilities difficult. Zaitsev’s North American professional hockey experience is limited to the 82 games he skated for Mike Babcock this season, and Washington should look to exploit that inexperience across all three zones of play.