Rabid Habs

Who is Nikita Nesterov?

27 January 2015: Tampa Bay's Nikita Nesterov (RUS). The Carolina Hurricanes played the Tampa Bay Lightning at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina in a 2014-15 National Hockey League game. Carolina won the game 4-2.

Whenever a trade is made, the knee-jerk reaction is always to declare a winner. If you listen to The Montreal Bias, you know that the winner of a trade can (and probably will) change every week. So for those who don’t know, here’s the trade du jour:

The Tampa Bay Lightning acquire:

D – Jonathan Racine

2017 6th round pick

The Montreal Canadiens acquire:

D – Nikita Nesterov

First, the name Jonathan Racine should be somewhat fresh in the minds of Habs fans, as he was recently acquired from the Florida Panthers in exchange for Tim Bozon. In 26 games with the IceCaps this year, Racine had three points. Not to diminish the career of Racine, but the general consensus is that the defenseman will never play in the NHL, which seems to be a general trend with Marc Bergevin trades. Remember the Thomas Vanek trade? Remember Sebastian Collberg? Me neither.

And a sixth round pick might as well be the equivalent of throwing a bucket in the ocean with the hope of catching a fish.

But what should the Habs expect from their new blue-liner? The potential is there, but there are some concerns to be aware of:

Young and Cheap:

For this reason alone, this trade is shocking from Tampa Bay’s perspective. Nesterov is only 23 and is on the last year of his contract that will pay him $725,000. An RFA at season’s end, Nesterov joins the Canadiens and is now the youngest defenseman on the roster. The return for Nesterov makes it look like the Lightning just gave up on a 23 year-old defenseman, which could turn out to be a big mistake.

Offensive Flair

Nesterov’s scoring totals won’t turn any heads, but there seems to be some intrigue in his underlying numbers. HERO charts found on ownthepuck.blogspot.com.

Nesterov Hero Chart

You’ll notice that Nesterov’s shot suppression could use some work, but he seems to have a bit of an offensive touch. Looking at his shots generated per hour is encouraging, as he is not reluctant to shoot the puck. As a 21 year-old rookie, Nesterov generated 44 shots in 27 games, and has eclipsed that total in each of the following two seasons. This could take some of the pressure off guys like Jeff Petry and Shea Weber, who are often tasked with the offensive output for the blue-line. Another positive from Nesterov’s HERO chart is his assists per hour. Nesterov could be a decent playmaking defenseman for the Habs as they wait for Andrei Markov to return, but his effect on the blue line could be felt for a much greater period of time.

The one caveat to this chart would be his time on ice, which is low. The sample size may be too small, and the Canadiens may need him to take on a large role immediately. The stats gathered to create this chart are from the past three seasons, so it’s possible that he had been given a larger role with the Lightning before being traded. Nesterov averaged 16:35 in ice time per game with the Lightning this season. Only time will tell what Nesterov is capable of offensively, but his possession numbers are encouraging for the time being.

Nesterov Loves Throwing the Body

Even though he’s only 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds, Nesterov likes to impose his will on the ice using well timed checks. Like this one. Tallying 95 hits last season, the Russian blue-liner joins the Canadiens and ranks sixth on the team in hits. On Wednesday morning’s Recency Bias, I talked about Emelin’s reluctance to throw the body and how that style of play may be taking a toll on him. It’s possible that Nesterov can take a little bit of stress off of Emelin when it comes to physical play, but I think this is going to be his role in all aspects of the game.

Nesterov joins the Canadiens in an odd spot; he has some offensive skills, but can also be relied on to throw a hit when needed. To be frank, Nesterov could be the Habs “Jack of all trades, but a master of none,” which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. If he can chip in offensively while adding a bit of intimidation to the Habs left side on defense, this trade could be a slam dunk.

And if it doesn’t work out, it’s not a back-breaker for Marc Bergevin and the Canadiens. This seems to be one of Bergevin’s patented “bargain bin” deals, which some fans may roll their eyes at. If this is the only move he makes to address the needs of this team, I’ll be concerned.

But for the time being, this deal seems like a win across the board.

Follow Ian on Twitter @BoisvertIan and follow @rabidhabs for more news, opinion and analysis.