Canucks Q&A: Engaging, educated Nikita Zadorov comes to the emotional rescue

Canucks Q&A: Engaging, educated Nikita Zadorov comes to the emotional rescue

Canucks Q&A: Engaging, educated Nikita Zadorov comes to the emotional rescue

Nikita Zadorov has opinions, lots of opinions. From the state of the Canucks to the war in Ukraine, he’s not afraid to dish as hard as he hits.

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Nikita Zadorov is fresh, frank and funny.

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The hulking Vancouver Canucks’ defenceman considers himself a fashionista — yes to turtlenecks, yes and no to chains — and his quick wit is a delight amid the daily drone of locker-room cliches.

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Zadorov has come to the emotional rescue to ensure nobody messes with star players — like Sunday in Chicago when he fought to answer a hard hit on Elias Pettersson — and as a well-educated citizen of the world, the Moscow native also has strong opinions on the war in Ukraine.

All this is bundled up in a 6-foot-6, 248 pound frame that addresses a continuing need for size, bite and possible offensive potential. Zadorov has played just nine games since being acquired from Calgary, but has lit a flame about parameters of a possible contract extension.

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Wild centre Marco Rossi is hounded by Canucks defenceman Nikita Zadorov on Saturday in St. Paul, Minn. Photo by Matt Krohn /AP Photo

Zadorov, 28, will have a lasting place in the North American game that captured his imagination after competing in the Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament in 2008. And when he hangs up the skates, there could be a place for him in world diplomacy.

Zadorov was asked in September about the continuing war and Russian atrocities in Ukraine, and his responses were like punches to the face of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“I’m a pretty straightforward person,” Zadorov told Postmedia News. “As hockey players, we can use our platform. If people ask me a question, I’m going to give an honest answer.

“They (Russia) call it an invasion but it’s not an invasion. That’s bulls–t. It’s a war. They’re sending rockets and killing people and when you cross the border first, that’s a war. They make up cool words so it doesn’t look so bad, but that’s part of propaganda.

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“They’re literally killing people who we have lived beside. I don’t know what (Putin) is trying to do or the U.S. (financial and arms support). There’s a lot of stuff that goes into politics and I’m trying to educate myself.

“With his regime, it’s impossible to go back to Russia. I don’t see a future of myself or my kids in that country.”

Vancouver Canucks’ Nikita Zadorov blocks a shot in front of goalie Thatcher Demko  as Carolina Hurricanes’ Sebastian Aho reaches for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Saturday, December 9, 2023. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

Here’s the hockey side of Zadorov, a 2013 first-round pick of the Buffalo Sabres, in our weekly Canucks Q&A:

Q: What was the famous Quebec pee-wee tourney like?

A: It was more like we’re not good enough. We got smoked. L.A. Selects and Detroit Honeybaked were the two best teams and we got beat 4-1. It was just a crazy and cool experience with 17,000 fans. That’s when I realized I wanted to come over and play here.”

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Q: You played defence, so why idolize Steve Yzerman?

A: He was my favourite player growing up. A lot of Russians grew up with the Red Wings — The Russian Five (Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov, Slava Fetisov and Igor Larionov) — but I didn’t like the Russians. I liked Yzerman, I don’t know why. I liked Darren McCarty, too, because he was fighting a lot (1,447 penalty minutes).

Q: How did figure skating factor into the development?

A: I worked with a coach from age seven to 13. It’s impossible to change your skating after you’re 18. You can add some skill stuff, but it’s important at a young age. I played a little basketball in middle school, but you have to commit to one sport if you want to be good. My parents always invested. I had 6 a.m. practices.

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Q: What do you recall about first NHL goal on Oct. 19, 2013?

A: With Buffalo against Boston and (goalie) Chad Johnson. It was a backhand. I went around Brad Marchand and put a backhander far side. I was a rookie. Marcus Foligno and Steve Ott got the apples (assists).

Q: Ted Nolan was a tough Sabres’ coach. Hurt or help you?

A: I had a really good relationship. One GM drafted me and new GM had different goals. I got traded for (Ryan) O’Reilly and that’s what Buffalo wanted. So, that was cool. My first year in Colorado, I was up-and-down because coach (Patrick) Roy liked veterans more than young guys.

Q: How do Adam Foote and Sergei Gonchar aid your game?

A: Foote had a coach on top of him all the time, so he knows how to treat players, what we want to hear and what we don’t. He helps my style for sure. And Gonchar is saying stuff I’ve never heard. He shows where to create more shooting lanes and where to put your feet and body to make better passes.

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There are so many coaches. You can learn a lot from this staff.

Q: You’re still finding your way. What’s the potential?

A: I’m not even close to what I can do and what coaches want to see. I can skate more and make more plays. When I get used to it (systems), it will show for sure.

Vancouver Canucks’ Nikita Zadorov  skates with the puck during the first period of an NHL game against the Carolina Hurricanes in Vancouver, on Saturday, December 9, 2023. Photo by DARRYL DYCK /THE CANADIAN PRESS

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