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Where could Nikita Zadorov fit into Blackhawks’ lineup?

The 25-year-old had surgery on his right arm in September, but is expected to be ready for the 2021 season.

Colorado Avalanche v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Bill Smith/NHLI via Getty Images

Nikita Zadorov is ready for a new challenge with a new team.

The 25-year-old defenseman was a restricted free agent but signed his qualifying offer of $3.2 million before the Avalanche traded him and fellow defenseman Anton Lindholm to the Blackhawks for two-time Stanley Cup champion forward Brandon Saad and defenseman Dennis Gilbert on Oct. 10.

“I was definitely super excited when I heard the news,” Zadorov said Monday. “It’s a fresh new opportunity for me to get on another level in my game. There’s still lots of things I can do better with what I haven’t reached yet. My peak is still a long way ahead of me.”

Zadorov had surgery on his right arm in September, but is expected to be ready for the 2021 season. He scored 13 points (four goals, nine assists) in 64 regular-season games with Colorado last season and five points (three goals, two assists) in 15 postseason games. According to Natural Stat Trick, Zadorov was sixth among Avalanche with a 50.49 Corsi-For percentage and 48.54 Expected-Goals-For percentage.

Zadorov spoke with Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton on Monday morning and explained to the 6-foot-5, 235-pound defenseman what his role could be and how he might hit into the lineup.

“He wants me to play big minutes — that’s what he said,” Zadorov said of the conversation with Colliton. “He wants to bring me to the next level of a shutdown D. Also, a puck mover and playing all sort of situations on the ice. I’m really excited about that. He said pretty much they’re going to do whatever it takes to open [up] all my potential that I still have.”

Colliton used the pairing of veteran Duncan Keith and rookie Adam Boqvist (378:01 at five-on-five with 46.9 CF%, 46.28 xGF%) the most this past season as his top duo. Zadorov is a left-handed shot and could have a number of potential partners to form a pairing: Connor Murphy, Brent Seabrook or prospect Ian Mitchell. Murphy is arguably the team’s best defenseman, Seabrook is trying to make his way back after having three surgeries (both hips/right shoulder) this past winter and the Blackhawks believe Mitchell can contribute in the NHL as a rookie.

The Blackhawks appear set on making the Keith-Boqvist pairing happen even though Mitchell could potentially be a better fit with Keith because Boqvist’s defensive miscues force Keith to cover more. If they keep Keith-Boqvist together, Zadorov could be paired with Murphy then have Calvin de Haan partner with Seabrook like this past season (253:39, 46.05 CF%, 46.2 xGF%) or with Mitchell.

Keith — Boqvist
Zadorov — Murphy
De Haan — Mitchell/Seabrook

Keith — Boqvist
De Haan — Murphy
Zadorov — Mitchell/Seabrook

Keith — Mitchell
De Haan OR Zadorov — Boqvist
Zadorov OR De Haan — Murphy
Extra: Seabrook

Nicolas Beaudin (left), Lucas Carlsson (left), Wyatt Kalynuk (left), Lindholm (left), Alec Regula (right) and even Nick Seeler (left) will hope to get their chance as well.

While being a former Central Division opponent, Zadorov picked up on one area the Blackhawks need to improve and believes he can fill the void.

“The one thing I want to bring is [be] harder to play against,” said Zadorov, who ranked seventh in the NHL among defensemen with 175 hits. “I got a text from Patrick Kane right after I got traded and he said he’s really excited that he doesn’t have to play against me anymore. I feel like it’s a really good thing to hear from one of the best players in the world.

“My biggest goal is I can play against top lines and that’s what I want to bring to this team is to play big minutes, play in big situations and try to shutdown the best players on the opposite team.”