ANAHEIM, Calif. – Nikita Zadorov’s first choice, of course, would be to play for the Sabres. But he’s stuck at eighth on the defense depth chart, and a spot in the lineup doesn’t seem to be in his immediate future.
So, with that in mind, would the 19-year-old rather practice with the Sabres or play for his junior team?
“Playing somewhere,” Zadorov said Tuesday.
The defenseman continued to practice with the Sabres and was one of the last players off the ice as Buffalo prepared for tonight’s game against Anaheim. It’s still unclear if Zadorov will remain with the Sabres for the long term or return to London of the Ontario Hockey League.
“I don’t think it’s my choice,” Zadorov said. “It’s not my job to make the decision with all that. I’m going to be there when they’re going to tell me to be. I’m going to keep working hard, keep playing hard. It doesn’t matter where.
“For me, it’s kind of hard. I think it’s hard for every player just to practice. Every player wants to play. I’m just going to keep working hard and wait for an opportunity.”
The Sabres have kept Zadorov after wondering whether the 6-foot-5, 238-pounder was too big for juniors. His agent, Rolland Hedges, told The Buffalo News last week the Sabres had the option of letting Zadorov play in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, but the NHL says that’s not the case because of its collective bargaining agreement with the Canadian Hockey League, the parent of the OHL.
“Under the terms of our existing agreement with the CHL, the club is obligated to loan the player back to his CHL club,” a league spokesman said in an email. “The team has no other option.”
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After everyone was done practicing, Sabres rookie Sam Reinhart stayed on the ice to work on faceoffs with assistant coach Bryan Trottier. His effort didn’t go unnoticed.
“I liked Sammy’s effort in practice,” coach Ted Nolan said. “I really did.”
It remains to be seen whether the effort will translate to a spot in the lineup. The second overall draft pick, who was scratched last game, again rotated with Brian Flynn as center on the fourth line. One likely will sit against the Ducks in Honda Center.
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The Sabres are starting three games in four nights, so it was a given that both Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth will start in goal this week. Nolan confirmed it, though he didn’t say who would play in Anaheim.
“This whole environment we have right now, everything is up for grabs: jobs and position and ice time,” Nolan said. “I know it’s only been six games, but we have to create an environment where we’re competing.”
The Ducks have the option of using NHL Second Star of the Week Frederick Andersen or John Gibson, who was the starting goalie on opening night and is back from a two-game conditioning stint in the minors. Andersen made 11 saves during the Ducks’ 5-1 victory over the Sabres on Oct. 13.
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About a half-dozen fans watched the Sabres skate in Anaheim’s practice rink, and nearly all of them asked players for a stick. One guy asked Nolan for his lumber, and he got it.
“You want this one?” the smiling coach asked with an incredulous tone. “Sure.”