Nikita Zadorov and Marko Dano were drafted 11 picks apart in the first round in 2013, and these rookies figure to play heavily down the stretch with their teams out of contention.
In Zadorov’s case, that’s if he can show up on time for the Buffalo Sabres.
The defenseman missed the last contest after being late to a meeting and it’s not clear if he will return in Tuesday night’s road matchup with Dano’s Columbus Blue Jackets.
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Zadorov, the No. 16 pick by Buffalo in 2013, has been disciplined twice for punctuality issues. The most recent occasion resulted in him missing Sunday’s 2-1 shootout loss to Nashville.
”I’m mad at myself,” said Zadorov, who was the last player off the ice following an optional practice Monday. ”I spoke with the team and said, ‘I’m sorry boys. I don’t want to lose your trust.”’
Coach Ted Nolan called Zadorov’s transgression ”a minor thing,” and yet he still won’t say if the player will return to the lineup Tuesday.
”The defense last game, I thought they played pretty well,” Nolan said. ”So to make a change just to make a change, I don’t think we’ll do that. But we’ll see. You never know.”
Nolan is already without three injured defensemen – Josh Gorges (lower-body injury), Mike Weber (upper-body injury) and Tyson Strachan (infection).
Buffalo (17-38-5) allows league highs of 35.0 shots and 3.32 goals as it tries to slow down a surging Columbus line which features Dano, Buffalo-born Nick Foligno and Artem Anisimov.
Each member of that trio had three points over two weekend road losses, 3-1 to Montreal on Saturday and 4-3 in a shootout to the New York Rangers the next night. Dano, the 27th pick in 2013, has appeared in the last four games after being recalled from the minors last Monday.
"I can’t tell you where the chemistry is coming from but we’ve had different lines step up," coach Todd Richards said. "Dubie’s (Brandon Dubinsky) line has been good as far as contributing, earlier than that it was Jo (Ryan Johansen) and (Scott) Hartnell seemed to have something and now we’ve got another line. That’s good."
Columbus (26-28-4) won 3-1 on the road in the season opener Oct. 9 by outshooting Buffalo 40-22. Both goalies who started that game won’t play since Sergei Bobrovsky is injured for the Blue Jackets and Jhonas Enroth was traded Feb. 11 by the Sabres.
Michal Neuvirth, who has a 1.72 goals-against average in his last five starts, will be in goal for the Sabres after Sunday’s 37-save effort.
"He’s been playing great these last five games," Nolan said. "We’re going to ride that horse until we see some tiredness comes in."
Curtis McElhinney is 3-1-1 with a 2.16 GAA in his last five starts for the Blue Jackets, with winless rookie Anton Forsberg the other option.
Sunday’s defeat capped a 2-2-1 trip for Columbus, which plays its next three at home.
"I think we’re anxious to get home," said Dubinsky, who has six points in his last six games. "It’s been a long stretch here and we’re looking forward to it."