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Zaitsev brought to Senators to help change culture, coach says

Smith lauds relationship with defenseman acquired in trade with Maple Leafs

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

Nikita Zaitsev was acquired by the Ottawa Senators with the hope he can make an impact on and off the ice.

Senators coach D.J. Smith worked with Zaitsev as an assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and is confident the 27-year-old defenseman, acquired by Ottawa from Toronto in a six-player trade July 1, can help create the environment he's seeking. 

Smith was hired May 23 after the Senators finished 29-47-6 last season.

 

[RELATED: Zaitsev, Brown traded to Senators by Maple Leafs]

 

"I'm looking for people to change the culture here and up the work ethic," Smith told the Senators website Monday. "I just explained to him how much I needed him, and we needed him here in Ottawa to help us with that. He was sold right away." 

Zaitsev and forwards Connor Brown and Michael Carcone were traded to the Senators for defensemen Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur, forward Aaron Luchuk, and a third-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Zaitsev has five seasons remaining on a seven-year, $31.5 million contract ($4.5 million average annual value) he signed with the Maple Leafs on May 2, 2017. He reportedly requested a trade out of Toronto. 

"Many guys are coming here from Toronto right now, and my relationship with D.J.," Zaitsev said when asked why he agreed to waive his no-trade clause for Ottawa. "That was very important for me."

The Senators signed defenseman Ron Hainsey, who played 81 games for the Maple Leafs last season, to a one-year contract July 1.

Smith believes Zaitsev can return to the form he had during his rookie season of 2016-17, when he had 36 points (four goals, 32 assists) in 82 games for the Maple Leafs. Zaitsev had 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 81 games last season.

Video: TOR@MTL: Zaitsev scores through heavy traffic

"We had some real offensive guys that we put on [the ice] in those offensive situations," Smith said. "For us to win, we needed him to keep the puck out more than we needed the offense. His first year, he had a lot more points, he was on the power play. He'll have a lot more opportunity here to get some offensive starts and to do some more things with the puck.

"I think a fresh start for him was needed, and I think Ottawa's the perfect spot for him. I'm not going to speak for him. I just know that he was really pleasant coming to the rink every day. He worked and he's a true professional and he'll help the Ottawa Senators."

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