Nikita Zadorov didn't want to play anywhere else this season other than with the Colorado Avalanche. So any reports this past summer about him returning to Russia to play in the Kontinental Hockey League weren't true, according to the defenseman.
"I told [Avs general manager Joe Sakic] in July that I'm not planning on going to the KHL," Zadorov said. "It's not what I want. I want to play in the best league in the world."
Even the lure of playing for his home country in February's Winter Olympics couldn't sway him.
"I'm still 22 years old. I still have a few more Olympics to go, right? So if I miss this one, it's not a big deal," said Zadorov. "I respect my country and I love my country, I'm totally Russian. Anytime they call me, I'm ready to go, but in this situation my hands are tied. It's not my decision to go to the Olympics. This is my league, this is my team, that is where I'm playing and if players from the NHL can't go to the Olympics then that is what it is."
Zadorov joined his Avalanche teammates on Thursday, meeting with the staff and going through medical and off-ice physical testing. He practiced for the first time on Friday morning.
It had been nearly a week since the big blueliner signed a two-year contract with the team last Friday, and the reason for his delay to Colorado was due to the typical wait time for one to get a work visa. Also, signing a contract just before the weekend when government offices are closed didn't help.
The Moscow, Russia, native wanted to join the Avs as soon as he could, but he also understood that it is process for him to enter the country.
"It usually takes a few days to get it," he said. "There isn't too much magic to get it the next day with the visa."
An unsigned restricted free agent since July 1, Zadorov and Sakic had been working on a contract all summer. It took until the first day of training camp for both parties to agree to terms on a new deal.
"For sure, I wished for it to be done early, but it's a business," Zadorov said. "You never know what is going to happen, right? Finally we got on the same page and now I'm here. I spoke with Joe, I spoke with the coaches, they're all happy I'm here, and I'm just here to play my best hockey."
Video: Nikita Zadorov joins the Avalanche for preseason
Zadorov is coming off a season that was cut short due to an ankle injury, forcing him to miss the final 25 contests.
Before getting hurt, the rear guard appeared to have been coming into his own as he had recorded 10 assists and was leading the Avs in penalty minutes (73) and hits (153). He still finished as the team leader in both statistical categories at the conclusion of the campaign.
The towering 6-foot-5, 230-pound D-man averaged a career-high 19:02 of ice time last year and was playing more than 20 minutes in 11 of his last 15 games prior to the injury. He also saw 2:08 per contest on the penalty kill, the most of his career.
Zadorov said it shouldn't take long for him to get his game to where it was at the end of last season. In fact, it might already be there.
"I have a few preseason games left, so I'll play some of them," Zadorov said. "Hopefully I'll get my level back right away. I was skating great. In the middle of August when I was skating, I was like, 'let's get the season going already.' I'm ready. I don't think it will be any problem coming back at the same level."
When head coach Jared Bednar was asked earlier in the week on who Zadorov's defensive partner would be when the Russian joined the club, the Avs bench boss didn't hesitate and quickly said Erik Johnson.
E.J. and Big Z played with each other a bit last season when both defenders were healthy, and it looks like any chemistry they built is still there given how much they've been talking over the summer. Or at least one person has been doing the talking.
"He's been texting me every day, E.J. He wants me to be here and he was happy I came today," Zadorov said. "I'm really excited to play with him. He's a great player, and we had great chemistry last year so we're just going to keep doing that."
If Zadorov and Johnson resume that strong communication on the ice and continue to elevate their play, the Avalanche might have a formidable top D-pairing this season. That's exactly what Zadorov wants.
"It's my goal. That is why I'm here," Zadorov said of playing against the other team's best players. "I want to help this team win something."