A free agent target for the Edmonton Oilers, Nikita Nikitin was announced as having been given over to the Oilers for exclusive negotiation rights. The Columbus Blue Jackets have good defensive depth, and would appear to be letting the player walk in to unrestricted free agency by giving Craig MacTavish rights to the player early.
While these types of deals are commonly attached to a conditional draft pick, a la the Dan Boyle trade the Islanders made recently, there has been no condition announced.
Of course, former Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson is now back in Edmonton as Assistant General Manager, and the opportunity to get exclusivity may be a favor to him from his old club.
Oil on Whyte profiled Nikitin recently and I echo what many critics have said about the player. He is inconsistent. He has a big body, but doesn’t get physical enough. He isn’t nasty enough–only 65 penalty minutes over the 2013-14 frame. However, he played under 18 minutes a game on average last season and performed admirably on a team that is far more defensively sound than the blue line train wreck in Edmonton.
Does that mean a third pairing d-man on another team can become a top 4 defenseman here? Not necessarily, no. Naturally, management are hoping Nikitin will become that guy. Let’s face it, though, folks. The Oilers need experience on the back end. There might be better raw skill with prospects like Darnell Nurse, Oscar Klefbom and Jordan Oesterle, but, those young men lack the skill and hockey sense that only seasons under one’s belt can provide.
Nikitin is also at the ideal age for developing defensemen. At 28, he is at the age where most good defenders see their game come into form. At the very least, however, the Oilers would acquire some size. Size is an area where the team is in dire need. Sure, Mark Fraser is big, but that’s about all he is. Nikitin possesses a good first pass, and that may be, along with his big body, what the Oilers are after.
Hopefully, the Oilers won’t have to break the bank to attract him. I previously stated that Nikitin would likely be enticed by a deal for four or five years at around 4.5 million a year. That is an overpay, but if the Oilers can get him at 3-5 years for about 3.5 million to 4.5 million per year, they should be happy with it. He is an immediate upgrade and would be a good complement to Andrew Ference and Justin Schultz. May Howson work his wonders!