Days after trade, Nikita Zadorov already on track to be Blackhawks fan favorite

Zadorov’s quick-witted quotes and massive hits will make him a popular Hawks player, even if the trade to acquire him won’t help the team’s future.

SHARE Days after trade, Nikita Zadorov already on track to be Blackhawks fan favorite
Nikita Zadorov (No. 16) will be a literally big part of the Blackhawks’ next season.

Nikita Zadorov (No. 16) will be a literally big part of the Blackhawks’ next season.

David Zalubowski/AP

Nikita Zadorov was undeterred by his awkward selfie phone camera Zoom angle, his recent trade and his inexplicable addition to a rebuilding Blackhawks defense.

Instead, he had some memorable lines in his first interview as a member of the Hawks on Monday.

Asked about playing in the storied United Center next season, he now-famously quipped: “You’re pretty much playing in the United Center in Denver, too. Seventy-five percent of the [fans are] Blackhawks fans when we have a home game against them.”

Objectively, Zadorov’s estimate was a slight exaggeration but not overly inaccurate. Hawks fans do show up in droves in Colorado — just as they do in Arizona, Florida, Carolina and other popular snowbird states — although the ratio has probably shifted under 50% during the Avs’ recent surge.

But that quote still ignited Hawks and Avalanche fans’ social-media circles in flames simultaneously.

Among Avs fans on Twitter, roughly half appreciated the good-natured humor and maligned the departure of the charismatic Russian they had affectionately nicknamed “Big Z,” while the other half derided Zadorov as a traitor and Hawks fans at the Pepsi Center as rude invaders.

Among Hawks fans on Twitter, though, all those who didn’t waste time fighting back against upset Avs fans seemed thoroughly amused by Zadorov’s zinger.

Zadorov, fortunately for those fans, has plenty more golden quotes within his giant 6-6, 235-pound body.

The last few weeks of heated offseason activity have led to many introductory player news conferences, but none have been as interesting and engaging as Zadorov’s.

For example, did he foresee last Saturday’s trade coming? Most players give the vaguest responses to this question, so as to avoid disclosing the process’s specifics. Zadorov did the opposite.

“Sometimes you have feeling inside, especially [when] you see all the rumors around Sportsnet and TSN and all that,” he said bluntly. “My name was on the air every time. Colorado had too many ‘D,’ they had young kids coming in, they had to get rid of somebody. So for sure you don’t really expect to go to the team you want, right? But I was expecting to get traded a little bit.”

Apparently, for the record, the Hawks were exactly the team he hoped for. The first NHL game he attended was in Chicago and his favorite place to play with the Avs was in Chicago.

Or, for another example, what can he bring to the team? Normally, one can wager liberally that “200-foot” and/or “two-way” will be among the adjectives used. Zadorov went in a different direction.

“I got a text from Patrick Kane right after I got traded. He said he’s really excited [he] doesn’t have to play against me anymore,” Zadorov said, grinning. “So I feel like it’s a really good thing to hear from one of the best players in the world.

“[Here’s] what I want to bring to this team: play big minutes, play in big situations and try to shut down the best players on the opposite team.”

Honest, fascinating quotes were exactly what made Robin Lehner a fan favorite last season, and Zadorov even brings another always-beloved skill that Lehner could not: enormous hits.

Over the last four seasons combined, he ranks 11th in the NHL in hits, with a whopping 834 in 267 games. YouTube is filled with highlights of the most ruinous, yet legal ones.

The trade to acquire Zadorov remains a perplexing one, given how it wasted Brandon Saad’s return on a defenseman who, at age 25, isn’t going to boost the youth movement.

But while Zadorov’s presence probably won’t much benefit the Hawks’ long-term outlook, he will certainly entertain fans on and off the ice this coming year.

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