Less than a week after Oilers GM Craig MacTavish spoke about his desire to upgrade the team’s defense, he might have taken his first step in that direction by gaining permission to negotiate with the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Nikita Nikitin, per TSN’s Bob McKenzie.
If the Oilers and Nikitin can reach an understanding, then the next step would be for Edmonton to acquire his rights so that he can be signed.
Nikitin, who turned 28 on Monday, had two goals, 15 points, and 72 blocked shots in a career-high 66 games last season. He’s dealt with a variety of ailments over the past three years, but he did average over 20 minutes per game in the shortened 2013 campaign and 2011-12 when he was healthy. Last season he logged just 17:06 minutes per contest as he found himself outside of the Blue Jackets’ top-four given the presence of Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin, and rookie Ryan Murray.
If Nikitin doesn’t sign with the Oilers, then he will be eligible to test the unrestricted free agent market for the first time in his career. He’s coming off of a two-year, $4.3 million deal.
Pavel Zacha was this close to making his NHL debut.
Just days prior to opening their season against the Jets, the Devils returned Zacha — the sixth overall pick at this year’s draft — back to his junior club in OHL Sarnia.
The move comes after Zacha, 18, impressed throughout training camp and the preseason. He appeared in four exhibition games for New Jersey, scoring one point while endearing himself to the organizational brass, coaching staff and players.
“He understands the game. He plays with a maturity. It’s crazy to think an 18-year-old coming out of high school is up here and playing with the maturity and understanding of the game with the new system,” Kyle Palmieri told NJ.com. “I think he’s got a lot of raw talent there as a power forward. He’s got the body for it, the puck-handling skills and the nose for the net.”
At 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds, Zacha has the frame and physical stature to play at the NHL level, and looked the part for long stretches of the exhibition season, getting turns on New Jersey’s top line.
The decision to send him back to junior is probably the right one, however.
Zacha only turned 18 in April and has limited experience even at the OHL level; ’14-15 was his first year with Sarnia, though he did appear in 38 Czech League games (for Liberec) the season prior.
There’s another Raffl in the NHL.
On Tuesday, the Jets announced that Thomas Raffl — the older brother of Flyers forward Michael Raffl — has signed a one-year, one-way deal worth $575,000.
Raffl, 29, was in Winnipeg’s camp on a PTO after a lengthy career in Europe. He spent time playing in Sweden and his native Austria, most recently with powerhouse EC Red Bull Salzburg — last year, Raffl scored 53 points in 52 games for Salzburg and three in seven games for Austria while serving as team captain at the World Hockey Championships.
“We would like to recognize and express our appreciation to the EC Red Bull Salzburg organization for allowing Thomas and the Winnipeg Jets this opportunity,” Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a statement.
With the Jets, Raffl projects to play in the bottom-six forward group, where he can utilize his 6-foot-4, 215-pound frame in a checking-slash-energy role.
For now, though, he’ll start out with the club’s AHL affiliate in Manitoba.