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2010 NHL Free Agency: Nikolai Zherdev looks to return to the NHL, possibly with Leafs or Sabres

Nikolai Zherdev, Darroll Powe

New York Rangers’ Nikolai Zherdev, left, of Ukraine, knocks Philadelphia Flyers left wing Darroll Powe out of his way in the third period of an NHL hockey game Sunday, April 12, 2009, in Philadelphia. The Rangers won 4-3. (AP Photo/Tom Mihalek)


Update: TSN reports that the Maple Leafs aren’t interested in Zherdev.

After spending a year in the KHL with Mytishchi Atlant, Dmitry Chesnokov reports that former Columbus Blue Jackets and New York Rangers forward Nikolai Zherdev is in serious discussions to return to the NHL. Chesnokov states that the Russian right-handed left winger is in talks with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres at the moment.

Considering the summer time struggles of Ilya Kovalchuk and Alex Frolov, I wonder if Zherdev was simply a year ahead of his time. While both players have had more success than Zherdev, they still share his national origin, reputation for being a bit ... mercurial and even shoot the same way and skate on the left wing.

Zherdev entered the league as the Blue Jackets’ hopeful second banana to Rick Nash. The skilled but occasionally irksome forward often found himself in Ken Hitchock’s doghouse, a plight you might expect to elicit empathy from Nikita Filatov. He scored 39 points in 52 games in the KHL last season while putting up 58 and 61 in his most recent NHL campaigns during the 08-09 and 07-08 seasons.

While the hope is that his game is maturing a bit, Zherdev could be a nice addition for both the Sabres and Maple Leafs at the right price. He is a three-time 20-goal scorer already in the NHL and at 25 one could argue that he’s still entering his prime.

(Also, to complete the Russian Rumor Trilogy, Chesnokov points out that railed high draft pick Alexander Svitov will not play in the NHL next season.)