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Nesterov making smooth transition to forward



Of all the adjustments the Lightning have had to make with their injury-riddled lineup, moving defenseman Nikita Nesterov to forward has been an intriguing one.

Nesterov, 23, has looked good too, joining J.T. Brown and Michael Bournival in recent games for a formidable fourth line. Nesterov, a gifted skater, is fast on the forecheck, and racked up eight shots his last four games.

"You can't even tell that he's a defenseman," quipped center Vladislav Namestnikov, a fellow Russian.

Nesterov is not a complete stranger to wing, having played forward during the playoffs in Russia's KHL several years ago. "It's more fun," Nesterov said. But this switch, temporary or not, is not only good for the Lightning, but also for Nesterov, who is in a prove-it, one-year, $725,000 deal. Having this type of versatility can only help, especially with Nesterov still struggling to remain a regular on the blueline.

Would Nesterov consider playing forward in future years?

"I don't know," he said. "I like 'D' too. If it's up to me, it doesn't matter where I play. If I get ice time, it doesn't matter where. I'm comfortable with both."

Nesterov just wants to play. And after being a healthy scratch on defense in four of six games earlier this month, Nesterov was slated to appear in his fourth straight Saturday. He's earned it.

"He can skate, he's physical, he engages, he's got a good stick," coach Jon Cooper said. "He can do them both at forward and 'D.' He's been kind of a utility guy."

Lightning color analyst Brian Engblom, a former Stanley Cup winning defenseman, said moving Nesterov to forward has also helped defenseman Slater Koekkoek, who has played in nine straight games. Engblom points out Koekkoek doesn't have to look over his shoulder, and that allows him to get in a rhythm and play free.

So can Nesterov. Some of his biggest issues as a defensemen are mental, sometimes misjudging when he should make a play, or jump into a rush. Playing forward fits his skill set.

"He likes to be up in the play," Engblom said. "When a defenseman, he plays better when he's got the puck and he makes some good plays offensively when  he's up in the rush, which is probably part of the reason they gave him that chance (at forward)."

Engblom laughs: "But maybe he doesn't want to play too good up there if he wants to be a defenseman. Be careful what you wish for."

[Last modified: Saturday, December 31, 2016 1:38pm]


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