|Photo: Francois Laplante / HHOF-IIHF Images|
While waiting for the United States and Canada to release training camp rosters for the 2015 IIHF World Junior Championships, Team Russia has announced their 38-man list. Among the notable names is 19-year-old NHL defender Nikita Zadorov.
Zadorov was a horse for bronze medalist Russia at the 2014 tourney, scoring five points (4+1) in seven games to earn a spot on the Tournament All-Star team. Just weeks ago, his participation in the 2015 event seemed "highly likely", but now it's a little more ambiguous.
After being a regular scratch to start the year, Zadorov has produced one assist and a plus-five rating in his last 11 NHL games to earn a clear role in the Sabres' top six alongside 2013 classmate Rasmus Ristolainen. He's been physical and engaged in the two-way action while averaging over 17:00 of work per night, and he makes the team better. With his development trending in the right direction, it'll be interesting to see if the Sabres allow him to execute the invite.
Remaining in Buffalo and gaining both confidence and valuable big league experience could only lend to his long-term development as a player.
On the other hand, the potential to lead his country's peer group in pursuit of a gold medal certainly can't hinder him hockey-wise, and can actually prove positive in terms of developing a human being.
Look no further than Zadorov's current defensive partner Ristolainen, who last year left the AHL's Rochester Americans for a month and became a national hero in Finland after scoring the tourney's golden goal. Ristolainen emerged from his World Junior experience a more confident, effective professional to set the table for his full-time NHL transition.
The thing is, one can argue that Zadorov is already a confident, effective pro. He has logged over 25 minutes of ice time in two of his last five games, so he's clearly being leaned on by the coaching staff. The question of whether he stays or gets a World Junior hall pass may not come down to potential injury risk, but rather the organization's opinion of how "winning" assists in the psychological development of a player. That's not happening with regularity in Buffalo, but it could with Team Russia.
The easy answer is that he stays with the Sabres, but we'll see how this one goes. It's a win/win either way.