Nikitin refutes MacTavish, says fitness ‘was never a problem’

20 Comments

Edmonton blueliner Nikita Nikitin, who hasn’t played since Jan. 29 because of a shoulder injury, has responded to comments made by Oilers GM Craig MacTavish that suggested Nikitin wasn’t in shape to start the season.

“I was in shape,” Nikitin said this week, per the Edmonton Sun. “I was in good shape. That was never a problem.”

Nikitin’s fitness level became a story following the trade deadline, when MacTavish told media the Russian rearguard didn’t come into the year in tip-top form, suggesting it might’ve played a role in what’s been a disappointing first year in Edmonton.

More, from the Sun:

“Nikita was playing better, he started off slowly, I don’t think he was in the best shape that he could have been, we have to get that rectified next year,” MacTavish said at the time. “But he was getting into shape and he’s a top-four NHL defenceman.”

The suggestion he was out of shape, made the Russian defenceman a target in Edmonton, particularly on radio call-in shows. Nikitin was lambasted on air, even though his fitness level at the beginning of the year was never in question until MacTavish made the comment.

Former head coach Dallas Eakins, who emphasized fitness, never suggested in public Nikitin’s fitness level was a concern.

In the first of a two-year, $9 million deal, Nikitin admits this season “has been frustrating for me,” noting that injuries to both his back and shoulder have kept him from fulfilling projections of him playing a top-four defensive role. What’s more, he — like many Oilers — had an immediate uptick in quality after Todd Nelson took over for Eakins as head coach; that’s only added to the frustration, as Nikitin says he only had a small window where he was playing his best hockey of the year.

“I think before the shoulder injury I was playing good,” Nikitin said. “I felt good, I was healthy.”