IRVINE — When Nikita Nesterenko arrived for his first day on the job, there was a familiar face in the Anaheim Ducks dressing room Thursday.
Years ago, he and Ducks star Trevor Zegras were teammates on the Fairfield Rangers. In fact, in 2011 the two of them, along with future NHL goaltender Spencer Knight of the Florida Panthers, played for the Connecticut Yankees in a famed Brick Invitational youth tournament in Edmonton.
The only surprising thing?
“We didn’t win the Brick Tournament, unfortunately,” Nesterekno said. “We made it to the semis or finals, I forget.”
So, was the irrepressible Zegras the same then as he is today?
“Oh yeah, he’s a character,” Nesterenko said. “It’s hard not to like him. Great guy. We’ve been keeping in touch, so nothing but good things to say about that guy.”
The transition to the NHL is difficult at the best of times, but it becomes easier if there are friendly faces in the room. In addition to going back more than a decade with Zegras, Nesterenko trains with Ducks goaltender Anthony Stolarz in New Jersey. In his sophomore year, he was roommates at Boston College with defenseman Drew Helleson, who is in AHL San Diego.
Nesterenko’s first Ducks practice on Thursday morning at Great Park Ice was the culmination of a whirlwind stretch of days, starting with Boston College’s season-ending loss Saturday. Nesterenko signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Ducks on Wednesday and traveled to Southern California, the first time he has been to the region.
“It’s been a long day yesterday – a long week,” Nesterenko said. “After the season ended, the head’s been spinning. People pulling me in different directions.
“I’m super happy to be here. I’m excited to get going.”
Nesterenko, originally drafted by Minnesota in the sixth round in 2019, was part of the package traded to the Ducks by the Wild in the John Klingberg deal March 3.
With only one practice with the Ducks, Nesterenko will not be playing against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday at Honda Center. The thought process was for him to get in additional practices and “earn it,” according to Ducks coach Dallas Eakins.
“To come out of playing college hockey is one thing, but to come into the NHL is another one,” Eakins said. “He’s going to have to go through systematic stuff. He can already see the pace is different – a light practice today. We certainly want him to be comfortable before we dip our toe in that water.”
The Ducks’ upcoming schedule – especially next week – also factors into the timing of Nesterenko’s NHL debut.
“Vancouver’s got a very fast team,” Eakins said. “We’ve got Calgary that’s fighting for their lives. Winnipeg is fighting for their lives, and St. Louis is big and strong. It’s just a different world. We just want to make sure he’s at least a little bit prepared rather than just throwing him right in.
“… This kid is young, he’s a prospect. We’re not going to get ahead of ourselves on projections. He’s one of these guys that’s able to burn a (entry-level) year. We’ll hopefully get him a few games in. We’ll see where that goes. The other thing we don’t want to do either – he’s come in, that’s great – but we’ve got guys that have been working their butts off as well. So there’s going to be a fine balance point to that too.”
Nesterenko described his game as a “skilled power forward,” adding: “I try to use my skating to my advantage, more of a playmaker. I’ve been trying to shoot more the second half of the season at BC.”
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Eakins said center Derek Grant took a maintenance day Thursday. Forward Jakob Silfverberg missed practice due to illness.
Rookie goaltender Lukas Dostal will get the start Friday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Dostal’s last start was a 3-2 overtime loss at Vancouver on March 8. Before that, he started and won against Chicago on Feb. 27.