Marc Bergevin’s long-standing mantra has been that you can never have too many defencemen, and that holds true with his acquisition of Nikita Nesterov from the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Montreal Canadiens’ GM had also mentioned he was in the market for a puck-moving defenceman, and for the cost he found a steal in Nesterov. Going back to Tampa Bay is Jonathan Racine and a 2017 sixth-round pick; essentially nothing in return for an NHL-calibre player.
What this likely means is that one of Mark Barberio or Zach Redmond may start to feel the heat for their lineup spot. With both Greg Pateryn and Andrei Markov nearing returns as well, there is a lot of competition for those bottom-pairing spots. Nesterov’s advantage comes in his ability to move the puck and contribute offensively.
The above chart highlights Nesterov’s ability to generate shots for his team on a regular basis. While his goal totals aren’t going to blow anyone away, it should be worth noting that he collects a solid amount of assists. Even on a Lightning team that is struggling this season, he’s been able to excel in terms of possession. This, while given minimal ice time, is cause for celebration, as the bottom pairing has been an issue with the Habs is previous years.
So far this year Nesterov is sporting a 54.5% Corsi-for percentage, good for third on his team. For his career, he clocks in at 52.5 CF%, so even though he isn’t shouldering heavy defensive starts, he’s excelling at generating shots for his team, and limiting shots against.
From the folks at SB Nation’s Lightning blog, Raw Charge, they mention that despite being primarily a bottom-pairing blue-liner, Nesterov is extremely flexible in deployment. He’s even played on the wing, taking a forward role at certain points of last season, and so far this year has split time with Slater Koekkoek on defence.
It’s highly likely we’ll see him deployed the same in Montreal, splitting time with his former teammate Barberio and Redmond. While his scoring numbers aren’t massive, he’s currently producing more goals than Pateryn, Barberio, and Redmond combined. His ability to play on both sides of the puck, along with his offensive punch, could provide a spark that the Habs have been missing on the bottom pair.
He can also play with an edge, something that Michel Therrien will certainly love from his new player. Although prone to the occasional lapse in coverage, the young defender is rounding out his game and can prove to be a major asset for the Canadiens.
Currently on the last year of his contract, he makes $725,000 this year, and will be a restricted free agent this summer. This gives Marc Bergevin flexibility on his roster, meaning he can let his new acquisition walk while giving up very little for a in-season tryout, or re-sign him and possibly ship out another body in the off-season. Tampa Bay has a major cap crunch coming, with several key players due for major raises, and Nesterov appears to be a casualty of that situation.
It’s not often that you can acquire a left-handed, puck-moving, NHL-calibre defenceman, let alone so cheaply. Marc Bergevin however, appears to have found yet another diamond in the rough. Even if he doesn’t solve all the issues facing the Canadiens in terms of defence, this transaction is an excellent low-risk, high-reward trade.