IRVINE, Calif. – The Ducks were on the ice at Great Park Ice this morning ahead of tomorrow night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Joining them was Nikita Nesterenko, fresh off signing a two-year entry-level contract yesterday after his collegiate career with Boston College came to a close last Saturday. Nesterenko’s rights—along with Andrej Sustr and a 2025 fourth-round pick—were acquired from the Minnesota Wild on trade deadline day in the deal that sent defenseman John Klingberg to the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Nesterenko skated on a line with Isac Lundeström and Frank Vatrano with usual third line staple Jakob Silfverberg out sick.
Though he arrives in time for the so-called “Bedard Bowl” matchup tomorrow against Columbus, head coach Dallas Eakins says Nesterenko will not suit up for his first NHL game just yet.
Nesterenko will have to earn his opportunity, says Eakins. With three extra forwards now on the roster, the fact that Eakins isn’t handing the opportunity to his new addition right away is understandable. Not only that, but the transition from collegiate hockey to the NHL isn’t always the smoothest.
“To come out and play college hockey is one thing,” said Eakins. “To come into the NHL is another one. He’s going to have to go through systematic stuff. You can already see the pace (for him) is different in a light practice today, so we certainly want him to be comfortable before we dip our toe in that water.”
“The reality is—doesn’t matter if the kid’s coming from college (or) he’s coming from junior—he is weak (physically) compared to these guys (already in the NHL) and that’s okay.”
“We’ve got guys here that have been working their butts off as well, so there’s going to be a fine balance point for that too.”
Creating good habits is something that Eakins preaches daily to his players. Being the first one on the ice for practice and the last one off is something that Mason McTavish has made a good habit of. Usually, he along with Trevor Zegras are the last two out on the ice. Today, Nesterenko was one of the last ones out there as well.
“The challenge is ‘How many extra days can he pocket at getting better?’ and every day that he can do that, it’s more currency in the bank,” said Eakins. “Every day that he lets it go, he gets nothing from it.”
“I’m actually more concerned about habits, practice, weight room (and) conditioning than I am on how he’s going to play in whatever how many games he plays.”
Speaking with Nesterenko, his six-foot-two frame appears much larger than listed due to his lanky frame. The forward said that he is excited to get going and he’s looking forward to getting to know his teammates better. Playing hockey in California—his first time in the state, by the way—is also another exciting prospect for him.
“I have a couple of buddies on this team,” said Nesterenko. “I played with (Zegras) growing up quite a bit and then (during the offseason) I work out with (goaltender Anthony Stolarz) back home in New Jersey, so they all reached out to me. It was a really warm welcome so (it was) super comforting.”
Nesterenko also played with defenseman Drew Helleson at Boston College, with the latter being acquired from the Colorado Avalanche last season in the deal that sent Josh Manson the other way. Coincidentally, Nesterenko and Helleson signed their entry-level deals exactly a year apart from one another.
“We were roommates my sophomore year so (we’re) pretty close friends,” said Nesterenko. “He was guiding me through the process a little bit, (I was) kind of just picking his brain apart.”
Nesterenko describes his game as being that of a skilled power forward, using his skating to his advantage. He also said that he’s ‘more of a playmaker’, but his coaches at Boston College encouraged him to shoot more—which he did during the second half of the season.
Though his NHL debut is on hold for now, Nesterenko is just taking things one day at a time. “Whenever it does come, I’ll be super happy,” he said. (I would) thank my family, friends, coaches and everyone (else) who’s helped me get here. (I) wouldn’t be here without them, obviously. It’s been a long journey so just kind of soaking it all in (and) having fun, that’s the important thing.”