Metro/John Matisz London Knights rookie defenceman Nikita Zadorov skates away from a check on Erie Otters forward Connor Crisp, who is wincing in the background, on Friday.

With a Memorial Cup-finalist season under their belts, Max Domi and Bo Horvat entered the current campaign with plenty of major junior hockey know-how.

Other 2013 NHL draft-eligible London Knights were not so lucky, however, and are facing the most important slate of hockey games of their lives as OHL freshmen.

Forwards Remi Elie, Kyle Platzer, Corey Pawley, as well as defenceman Miles Liberati, have all been tasked with getting comfy in the league — and impressing scouts — simultaneously.

Wedged somewhere in between Domi/Horvat and the others is Nikita Zadorov.

The big-bodied Russian rearguard is new to North America as a whole, but scouts say he’s doing just fine.

“Zadorov is finding his way in the OHL, and you can see that his learning curve is accelerating more with each game, in picking his spots and finding ways to contribute,” said Dan Marr, director of NHL Central Scouting.

Marr highlights Zadorov’s competitive spirit, especially when the Moscow native chooses to use his “size/strength game” to his advantage.

The ninth overall selection in the 2012 Canadian Hockey League import draft sports a massive frame, standing at 6-foot-5 and tipping the scales at 228 pounds. Unlike many hulking D-men, though, decent puck skills and quality skating complement the thunderous body checks.

This dynamic is making the loss of graduating ex-captain Jarred Tinordi a lot easier on London. In 11 games, the 17-year-old has picked up three assists and is a plus-12.

“While he won’t be able to fill Tinordi’s shoes right away, he has the tools to do it sooner than later,” said Mark Edwards, director of scouting for HockeyProspect.com, a popular independent scouting service. “He is just huge and he plays big. Some don’t.”

What’s garnered a checkmark in another Ontario-based scout’s notebook is Zadorov’s adaptability.

“Thus far, he has shown a sharp learning curve. He’s exhibited an ability to play a mean, aggressive style while maintaining good defensive positioning,” said Sean Lafortune, regional scout for McKeen’s Hockey, another well-respected independent service.

Early season projections slot Zadorov as a potential first- or second-round pick in what many are dubbing the deepest draft class in nearly a decade.

Where the big Russian ranks

  • International Scouting Services (released on Oct. 15): No. 18 amongst all draft-eligible skaters
  • HockeyProspect.com (Sept. 30): Under “On Our Radar” category
  • NHL Central Scouting (Sept. 19): Under “A Skaters – OHL” category

*This post also appears in Metro London’s Oct. 22 print edition

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