At 11:58 pst on Friday, March 3rd, the last trade of the 2023 trade deadline was submitted to the NHL offices, narrowly beating the buzzer. That trade sent RHD John Klingberg (50% salary retention) from the Anaheim Ducks to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for RHD Andrej Sustr, F prospect Nikita Nesterenko, and a 2025 4th round pick. Klingberg proved a problematic player to trade as his contract carried a $7 million cap hit and a 21-team no-trade clause while he was in the midst of the worst statistical season of his career. With the Ducks’ season shaping up the way it has (bottom five in the NHL standings), General Manager Pat Verbeek was in a position where he had to trade Klingberg or risk losing him for nothing in free agency at the season’s end, so he took the best deal that was on the table. The return may have (understandably) underwhelmed many who follow the team. Still, there’s a potential wild card coming Anaheim’s way in the form of the prospect included in the deal, Nikita Nesterenko. Let’s take a closer look at Nesterenko…
NHL Draft – Today
The Minnesota Wild drafted Nesterenko in the 6th round (172nd overall) of the 2019 NHL Draft. When selected out of Lawrenceville School, a New Jersey-based prep school, he was seen as a highly skilled forward who desperately needed to build strength and fill out his frame. He decided to play his post-draft season (2019-20) for the Chilliwack Chiefs of the BCHL, where he scored 20 goals and 36 assists in 56 games before heading to Boston College in 2020-21 for his Freshman season.
Three years later, Nesterenko’s Junior year is nearing an end as it’s unlikely Boston College will be selected for the NCAA Tournament. In 95 career NCAA games, he’s scored 26 goals and 48 assists for the Eagles. So far, in his Junior season (2022-23), he’s played heavy minutes in all situations, featuring on the top powerplay and penalty kill units. He is second on the team in scoring behind only the 2022 fifth overall selection, Cutter Gauthier. For an Anaheim Ducks connection, in his first two seasons at Boston College, he shared the ice with current Ducks prospect and San Diego Gulls defenseman Drew Helleson. While Nesterenko was drafted as a center, he’s only played a wing position in the NCAA and projects as a winger moving forward in his career.
The first thing one notices when watching Nesterenko play is his frame. He looks a bit lanky on the ice and seems to be adjusting to how much his body has grown in a short time. When he was drafted, Nesterenko was listed at 6 ft 157 lbs but is now 6-2 185 lbs. He’s a 200ft, complete player and proves himself effective in every situation and every zone. He has a non-stop motor, whether the puck is on his stick, a teammate’s stick, or an opponent’s stick.
A skill very few players have is the ability always to keep their feet moving while not wasting a stride. It’s a high IQ attribute, and Nesterenko has it. His first few strides are explosive, and he’s exceptional on his edges, possessing the ability to spin off defenders and turn up ice on a dime. Straight-line speed isn’t a strength by any means, yet he rarely gets beat to pucks. His skating posture is unorthodox as he bends a lot at the waist and has a wide base, but he makes it work for him.
Nesterenko’s bread and butter has, and will always, be his puck skills. He has an extraordinarily long stick, traditionally a hindrance for players, but he uses it to his advantage. He likes to bring the puck close to his skates to change angles when he’s shooting, passing, or making moves around defenders. He has a surprisingly quick release on his shot and must use a 65-flex stick because the amount of whip he gets on it is remarkable. He’s creative in open ice and tight spaces, is decisive with the puck, and processes plays at a lightning clip. Once he starts utilizing his frame to protect the puck and drive it to dangerous areas of the ice, his offensive game will find new levels of production. Right now, he relies on his reach a little too much when battling.
Nesterenko has all the offensive potential in the world but never scarifies the defensive side of the game. It’s in his DNA to cover for defensemen who join attacks, and he always backchecks through the middle of the ice with full effort. He uses his high IQ and vision just as much in his own zone and on the penalty kill as he does in the offensive zone and on the powerplay. His long stick is always in position to eliminate passing lanes and pressure puck carriers. When he does break up a play, he transitions like he’s shot out of a cannon in pursuit of an opportunity going the other way. He’s effective on the forecheck, can singlehandedly cause turnovers, and is never shy about finishing a hit.
Pat Verbeek has stated when Boston College’s season is over, Nikita Nesterenko will be signed to an ATO (amateur tryout) and report to the San Diego Gulls of the AHL. It was also suggested that from there, he would sign his ELC (entry-level contract) at some point during the offseason. The Hockey East Championship Tournament is set to begin on Wednesday, March 8th, and will last through Saturday, March 18th. It’s a single-elimination style tournament, so if Nesterenko’s Boston College team loses at any point, his collegiate career will end, and his professional career will begin.
The Ducks made two NHL trades on March 3rd’s trade deadline. While the returns didn’t blow any sock off, an interesting piece is coming Anaheim’s way very soon. Nikita Nesterenko could play as little as one more NCAA hockey game before reporting to the AHL. He’s come a long way in his development since being drafted in the 6th round of the 2019 NHL Draft and has the skill and potential to become an impactful player at the highest level.
All replays of Nesterenko’s Boston College games as well as the upcoming Hockey East Championship Tournament, can be found on ESPN+. If you don’t have ESPN+ but are interested, please visit insidetherink.com/espn for more information.