This is the next in a series of stories ranking the 24 most important players on the 2011-12 St. Louis Blues.
No. 18 Nikita Nikitin
I have trouble pronouncing and spelling Nikita Nikitin. Even though he played 41 games last season for the Blues, I kind of forget about him. And then I enter into Google Nicoli Nitkinin. With no playoffs to write about, it was apparently a long offseason.
Something tells me the Blues might forget about the good-sized Russian too. When you look at his numbers, he was at most the seventh defenseman on the Blues...except when they added another name to the injured list.
In half a season, Nikitin scored one goal and eight assists. That was within six points of his best season in Russia with Avangard Omsk, so there's a decent chance Nikitin doesn't have a very high ceiling even at age 25. He was well thought of back home. The fine comrades at Russian Hockey Fans found a big fan of Nikitin with a really accurate observation:
"His top feature is his excellent first pass. He can launch a forward one-on-one against the goalie directly from his own zone", Russian reporter Ilya Elchaninov based in Omsk said to RussianHockeyFans.com. "He's got a very strong shot, but he lacks accuracy."
"He's a fairly fast skating and is very good on the corners", added Elchaninov. "The fact with him is that he's inconsistent. He can play a great game and then a bad one the day after. Sometimes he makes some positioning mistakes. He needs to be well mentored by his coach. When Avangard's coach was Sergei Gersonsky he was the best defenseman of the team, but when that coach stepped out, it was just not the same. He can play both defensive and offensive roles, even if he's better as stay at home blue liner. Nikitin has a big potential, but he needs to be motivated."
Averaging about 16 minutes of ice time a game, Nikitin didn't exactly have a lot of opportunities to prove himself on a regular basis. So we thought maybe his inconsistent level of play might have been opportunity-based. Maybe it's more.
And the comment about an inaccurate shot is totally accurate...unlike Nikitin. That one goal was the result of 46 shots on net. Add that to his 26 missed shots that didn't find the net and that's 71 times he attempted a shot and failed. Accuracy problems indeed.
It seems clear from the roster that Nikitin will be on the third defensive pairing when he does dress. It's not out of the question that he could play his way to Peoria. But there is another possibility. After a full year on the smaller North American ice surface, Nikitin might make adjustments and become a useful puck-moving defenseman on this team. Or he may just be known for his N64 nickname.
He gets ranking No. 18 not for his track record but for the chance he continues to develop as a player and improves this season. If he doesn't and I'm crazy enough to try this again next year, he'll be in the 20s. Guaranteed.