Just when everyone thought the Washington Capitals couldn’t add more to their impressive, overhauled roster, guess again. Rumours have started to stir involving Team Russia’s Captian Ilya Nikulin jumping ship from the KHL and joining a NHL club. Now, it wouldn’t be the first time Nikulin was involved with a NHL organization…sort of. The Russian defensemen was selected as the second round choice by the once-was Atlanta Thrashers in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, but never materialized as the highly-touted prospect he was at the age of 18, at least on the North American side of the hockey universe.
Across a career that has seen him lace up for 363 career games across 15 years in the KHL, he has proven to be a steady offensive outlet on the blueline, chipping in a career total of 218 points. So at his age, with his experience limited on the ice here in North America, why in the world would the Capitals be interested in bringing him aboard for their aggressive Cup push? Good question.
The Capitals, while tight on cap space, do have around $450,000 free as it stands (more likely after September organizational moves). While the Caps’ brass will have to get creative to likely free up at least upwards of $2.2 million that he was making in the KHL, the figure may be closer to the $3 million mark as that is what a veteran defender seems to fetch these days. However, the Capitals do have two things working in their favor. First off, Nikulin has made it known via a report by Alexander Rogulev of rSport that he will not be resigning with KHL’s Kazan Ak-Bars club after previously spending 10 years with the team. Secondly, the Capitals have a roster that not only offers Nikulin the chance to win sooner rather than later, but also a good transition to the North American game with former countrymen Alexander Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov and Evgeni Kuznetsov being part of the club. Heck, Ovechkin is the godfather to Nikulin’s son, smell any chemistry? Both these factors could drive down Nikulin’s asking price, if played right by the Capitals.
While Nikulin might not be able to fill the shoes of departed offensively-minded defensemen Mike Green, he would definitely bring that same characteristic to the ice. With the projected lines all speculation before the 2015-2016 jumps off this Fall, Nikulin could squeak into the 3rd-line pairing and add some nice depth for the Capitals club who seem to be locked into the mindset of ‘Cup or Bust’ heading into this season.