Leafs Sign Nikita Zaitsev
Less than 48 hours after acquiring the right to select first overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, the Leafs added another player to their roster by signing Nikita Zaitsev to a one-year, entry-level contract earlier today.
The 24-year-old defensemen just completed a strong season with CSKA Moscow of the KHL, registering 8 goals and 26 points in 46 games. Formally the captain of CSKA and three-time KHL All-Star, he also registered 13 points in 20 games during the playoffs, which tied for the playoff leader in points for defensemen.
This signing has been expected to be completed for months, dating back to a report where Zaitsev planned to sign with the Leafs, according to Sportsnet. May 1 was the first day international free agents were available on the market to be signed, so the signing occurring today makes sense.
A number of other teams had expressed interest in signing Zaitsev, including the Calgary Flames and Pittsburgh Penguins. Given that Zaitsev is one of three right-handed defensemen now on the roster, along with Frank Corrado and Connor Carrick, he should have a solid shot at making the Leafs opening night lineup and could play major minutes early on.
Zaitsev is currently gearing up for the 2016 IIHF World Championships in Russia to represent his native country, which will give Leafs fans their first glimpse of their newest defensemen in game action. He could also see himself playing at the Air Canada Centre before donning the Blue and White, as he may be in consideration for a spot on Team Russia for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey.