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Monday Morning GM: Nikita Nesterov is returning to the NHL. Should it be Toronto?

I can’t think of a less flashy topic to discuss than importing a bottom pairing defender from the KHL, but here we are. And here is what we’re dealing with…

From AllHockey.Ru (google translated):

CSKA President Igor Esmantovich spoke about the transfer plans of the Moscow club, and also said that defender Nikita Nesterov will leave the club.

“We talked with Kaprizov at the end of the season, he said that he would try forces in North America. We are not negotiating with him. They made an offer on Sorokin on June 1. He listened to the proposal with the agent and said that he would make a decision later. CSKA still plans to sign two defenders and a striker.

With Nesterov, the story is interesting. We agreed with him in December, shook hands that he will remain for five years in CSKA. We agreed on the conditions, gave him everything he wanted. But a week ago, he decided for family reasons to go to North America. We thanked him for three years at CSKA and wished him good luck, “Esmantovich said.

So, why does any of this matter for the Leafs? Why would the Leafs be interested in a defenseman three years removed from the NHL?

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Well, that’s a good question, but we’ll start with the fact that they have been interested…

The fact that Nesterov has been an over 20 minute a night guy in the KHL, and despite his 5’11 stature he plays with the physicality that has been missing from the Leafs blueline might speak to some of that level of interest, but it’s also worth noting that the rumoured interest came back in the days of Mike Babcock, when the Leafs could have been looking to build a blueline that Babcock would want to coach.

Also since that interest at the beginning of the year the Leafs have added Mikko Lehtonen, seen Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren take development steps, and have made the decision to bring back Justin Holl and Martin Marincin.

The fact that Nesterov is a left handed shot probably makes him redundant as well considering the Leafs have Rielly, Muzzin, Dermott, Sandin, Lehtonen, Marincin, and Rosen all fighting for jobs, and a couple of them are likely to move to the right side with Liljegren and Holl.

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There is a case that can be made that Nesterov would bring an element to the Leafs roster that is somewhat lacking, but given that he’d be returning a role that could easily see him pushed into the AHL or spending prolonged time in the press box, I’m willing to wager the Leafs aren’t as high on his list as they may have been in October.