Just as the puck dropped on Thursday’s game against the Islanders, the Habs made a move to add some blueline depth, acquiring Nikita Nesterov from Tampa Bay in exchange for defenceman Jonathan Racine and a 2017 6th round pick.
Nesterov is an undersized blueliner with some offensive skills but is someone whose play in his own end can be suspect at times. Accordingly, Tampa Bay often used him as a seventh defender or even a winger at times over the last couple of years, not unlike Montreal’s usage of Marc-Andre Bergeron several years ago. However, he had grabbed a hold of a regular spot with the Bolts as of late.
On the season, the 23 year old has three goals and nine assists in 35 games while averaging 16:35 per game. In his career, he has played in 119 NHL games (all with the Lightning who drafted him in the 5th round (148th overall) in 2011), scoring nine goals while adding 19 assists, 77 PIMS, and a -2 plus/minus rating. He carries a cap hit of $725,000 this year and will be a restricted free agent in July.
The Habs have been iffy in terms of depth on their back end after injuries took Andrei Markov and Greg Pateryn out of the lineup and the move should allow for Ryan Johnston to return to St. John’s. Worth noting is that when those two return, Montreal will have nine NHL defencemen. With a max roster size of 23 under after the March 1st trade deadline, that will be difficult to maintain without running someone through waivers (or trading one of their other depth players).
Racine was acquired back in October from the Panthers in exchange for Tim Bozon. He has been in and out of the lineup St. John’s as a 6th/7th defender. His inclusion was most likely to match the number of contracts out of the limit of 50 more than anything else.