Nikita Nesterov had a successful homecoming.
He won a Gagarin Cup title in the KHL and helped his country claim gold at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang.
Now, after a three-season stint in his native Russia, the 27-year-old rearguard wants to take another crack at the NHL. The Calgary Flames announced Friday that Nesterov has signed a one-year, one-way contract at the league minimum salary of US$700,000.
“He had more lucrative, probably, opportunities back home,” said Flames general manager Brad Treliving. “But he wants to try it. He wants to be an NHL player.”
He’ll get that opportunity at the Saddledome this upcoming season.
Although Nesterov is a left-handed shot, the Flames have him slotted on the other half of their defensive depth chart.
“He’s played a lot of right side. He’s very comfortable over there,” Treliving said. “And that would be the plan for us.”
Nesterov logged 132 regular-season outings during his first stint in the NHL, totalling nine goals, 33 points and 81 penalty minutes on behalf of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens from 2014-17.
He also suited up for 28 more appearances in the playoffs, the bulk of those during a run to the 2015 Stanley Cup final with the Bolts.
For the past three winters, he patrolled the blue-line for CSKA Moscow.
“In the time that he’s been back (in Russia), he has captained the national team, won a KHL Championship, won an Olympic gold medal, and I think his game has developed more. He’s more mature now,” Treliving said. “We think there’s value there. Now, we’ll find out. At the end of the day, with a player like this, you have to see how it translates.”
As long as it’s a smooth transition, Nesterov seems like the frontrunner to skate alongside youngster Juuso Valimaki — finally recovered from knee surgery and currently lighting it up on loan with Tampereen Ilves in Finland’s Liiga — on Calgary’s third pair. (That is presuming the top two tandems will feature captain Mark Giordano and Rasmus Andersson, then Noah Hanifin and high-profile addition Chris Tanev.)
Also in the mix for jobs on the Flames’ back end are Oliver Kylington, Alexander Yelesin, prized college free agent Connor Mackey and recently signed Alex Petrovic. Kylington, it should be noted, still needs a new contract as a restricted free agent.
Nesterov was linked to several suitors — including a potential reunion with the Lightning — but must have figured his best opportunity was on a rebuilt blue-line at the Saddledome.
At the NHL’s minimum wage, he could turn out to be a bargain.
“He moves really well. He has good mobility,” Treliving said of the latest addition, listed at 5-foot-11 and 200 lb. “A big part of playing defence is how you can get back and transition pucks, get back and break the puck out. Breaking the puck out allows you to spend less time in your end, and he has the ability to do that. He has a big shot. Over there, he’s played in all situations.
“Again, how does that translate? We’ll see. But we think there is a chance to have good value with this signing, so we’re looking forward to getting him here and getting going.”