Nikita Zadorov made himself known in his first preseason game of the 2017-18 campaign.
Just three days after arriving in Denver and one practice later, the defenseman was in uniform for the Colorado Avalanche in its contest at the Minnesota Wild.
It was Zadorov's first game in seven months after last playing on Feb. 19 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He suffered a freak ankle injury the next day during practice when he got tangled up with a teammate and missed the remainder of the 2016-17 season.
Zadorov said on Thursday that he felt like his old self entering Avs training camp and it wouldn't take him long to get readjusted to the pace of the game. Before the contest in Minnesota, he noted that he wasn't going to dip his toe in the water, so to speak, but jump right in.
"I'm not going to wait for the game to come to me. I'm going to come to the game" Zadorov said. "Speed, I've been practicing with NHL players full-time, so the speed is there."
The Moscow, Russia, native finished with two shots on goal, four hits, one takeaway, one blocked shot and seven penalty minutes in Colorado's 2-1 loss at Xcel Energy Center.
Zadorov even dropped the gloves as he fought former Avalanche forward Chris Stewart at 7:35 of the second period.
The 6-foot-5, 230-pound rear guard ended the night with the second-most ice time on the club at 21:57, trailing only his defensive partner for the game, David Warsofsky, who played 27:31.
The reason for the delay in Zadorov joining the Avs was because he signed his two-year contract on Sept. 15 and had to wait to get his work visa before entering the country. He finally got his paperwork approved and arrived in Denver on Wednesday night.
He's looking to build on the solid campaign that he had last year, where he registered 10 assists, while leading the Avalanche with 73 penalty minutes and 153 hits.
"For sure, it's our goal. Not just keep going, but keep going up," Zadorov said of improving as a player. "Get better every game, and just be the best."
He had a strong start in achieving that on Saturday.
Despite having 45 players still on its preseason roster, Colorado sent a young lineup to Minnesota to face the Wild.
The Avs are carefully managing their players this weekend with them playing three games in three days, and head coach Jared Bednar noted after Friday's practice that every healthy skater will play at least one contest in this set.
Like Colorado did for Tuesday's exhibition opener against the Vegas Golden Knights, the team iced an inexperienced squad versus the Wild. Only six players saw significant time in the NHL last season: Mark Barberio, Jonathan Bernier, Blake Comeau, Matt Nieto, Carl Soderberg and Nikita Zadorov.
Video: Condensed Game: Avalanche @ Wild
"A real good chance for our guys to come in, defend hard and try to prove themselves," Bednar said before the contest. "See how this whole thing plays out for us in training camp and going through the exhibition, but a good opportunity here for a lot of the young guys that haven't been here before."
Of the 20 players the Avs had in their lineup in Minnesota, only 13 had NHL regular-season experience.
Goaltender Jonathan Bernier saw his first action of the preseason on Saturday night, as he got the start in net against the Wild and made 22 saves.
Signed as a free agent on July 1, Bernier will be the backup to starting goalie Semyon Varlamov this season but can fill in as a No. 1 if needed.
The Laval, Quebec, native was a main man between the pipes during his three years in Toronto (2013-2016) and played in 39 games with the Anaheim Ducks last season while starter John Gibson was injured.
Bernier will play in at least one more contest during the preseason. Bednar said the keeper will start in Monday's matchup at the Dallas Stars--the last of three games in three days for the Avs.
Video: COL@MIN: Bernier stones Stewart in the slot
AVALANCHE LINE COMBINATIONS
Andrew Agozzino - Carl Soderberg - Rocco Grimaldi
Matt Nieto - Dominic Toninato - Blake Comeau
Gabriel Bourque - Felix Girard - Reid Petryk
Brady Shaw - Alex Belzile - Trent Vogelhuber
Nikita Zadorov - David Warsofsky
Andrei Mironov - Mark Barberio
Jared Cowen - Chris Bigras