Nesterov Signs NHL Contract

The Tampa Bay Lightning have agreed to terms with defenseman Nikita Nesterov on a three-year, entry-level contract today, vice president and general manager Steve Yzerman announced.

Nesterov, 6-foot, 183 pounds, played in 35 games with Chelyabinsk Traktor of the KHL this season, recording 14 penalty minutes while averaging 12:21 in average ice time. He also appeared in 19 playoff games, recording four assists as Traktor lost to Dynamo Moscow in the Continental Cup Finals. Nesterov has played in 45 career KHL games, all with Traktor, recording one assist.

A native of Chelyabinsk, Russia, Nesterov has represented his country in each of the previous two seasons. He played for Russia at the 2011 IIHF World Under-18 Championships, recording two goals and four points in seven games. Nesterov then played in last year’s IIHF World Junior Championships, skating in seven games and registering two goals and five points.

Nesterov, 20, was selected by Tampa Bay in the fifth round, 158th overall, of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. He participated in the 2012 Lightning Development Camp at the Brandon Ice Sports Forum. Nesterov’s team, also made up of Vladislav Namestnikov, Slater Koekkoek and Cedric Paquette, took home the annual 3-on-3 tournament championship.

BP Notes:

Nesterov is an undersized puck mover who plays a strong positional game. He has a high hockey IQ, which helped keep him in the KHL this year. In fact, Nesterov was used at both forward and a defense for Chelyabinsk late in the year and in the playoffs.

The Russian was a stalwart on the backline for his WJC squad, playing in all game situations. He was smart with the puck on the power play, making quick decisions and delivering accurate passes. He does not posses high end speed or a cannon shot, but is capable of logging power play minutes if needed in the North American pros.

Nesterov skates well, as you would expect for an undersized defenseman, but does not project to be a high point producer as many of the undersized defensemen tend to be.

Where Nesterov struggles, and will struggle as a pro, is along the wall against bigger, more physical forwards. Early at the WJCs he was tossed around a bit but was able to compensate later in the tournament with his positioning. Whether or not this strategy works at the NHL level will be interesting to watch. He has to get stronger, especially in the lower body.

Yzerman likes players who are smart and skilled and Jon Cooper likes defensemen capable of joining the rush and Nesterov fits all those categories.

Expect Nesterov to get a long look in Lightning camp next year but ultimately end up in AHL Syracuse. It's possible he could return home to Russia instead of going to the AHL as some prospects tend to do, but it is unlikely in this case.

Nesterov projects as a versatile 5-7 defenseman if he can add strength.

Other Russians who could be making the trek to Syracuse this summer include goaltender Andrej Vasilevskiy and forward Nikita Gusev. Nikita Kucherov is already signed and expected to play for the Crunch next season.

As an aside, Nesterov was first known to Lightning fans as the player the Lightning's Twitter author tipped in the third round of the draft. The tweet announcing Nesterov as the pick was quickly deleted before he was announced an hour later in the fifth round. It shows how high he was on the Lightning's list.