Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Offensive versatility can help Lightning defenseman Nesterov

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

Nesterov, 23, has looked good as a wing, 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 had racked up eight shots in his past four games before being scratched Saturday against the Hurricanes.

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

Nesterov is not a stranger to wing, having played forward during the playoffs in Europe'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 him, especially with Nesterov struggling to remain a regular on the blue line.

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 early last month, Nesterov was slated to appear in his fourth straight Saturday. He has 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 TV color analyst Brian Engblom, a Stanley Cup-winning defenseman in his playing days, said moving Nesterov to forward has also helped defenseman Slater Koekkoek, who had played in nine straight games. Engblom said Koekkoek doesn't have to look over his shoulder and that allows him to get in a rhythm and play freely.

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 laughed: "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."

RIGHT MOVE: Though Cooper said it was an "extremely tough" decision to bench veteran Valtteri Filppula on Wednesday for missing a team meeting, it was the right one. Filppula, the team's most experienced player and only Stanley Cup winner, deserves the benefit of the doubt for a single mistake, sleeping through his alarm Wednesday morning. But by making Filppula a healthy scratch, it sends the right message to younger players.

SLAP SHOTS: Congratulations to forward Brian Boyle and wife Lauren, who are expecting their second child, a daughter, in May. "We're really excited," Boyle said. The Boyles have a son, Declan, 17 months. … Cool moment Saturday morning: former Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier was at Amalie Arena with his son, Gabe, who got a Nikita Kucherov jersey for Christmas. Kucherov signed it after the morning skate.

Joe Smith can be reached at Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.

Offensive versatility can help Lightning defenseman Nesterov 12/31/16 [Last modified: Saturday, December 31, 2016 9:58pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rowdies settle for draw at home


    ST. PETERSBURG — The good news for the Rowdies is that they still haven't lost a game at Al Lang Stadium since late April. The bad news is they had to settle for a 1-1 tie against Ottawa on Saturday night in front of 6,710 sweaty fans.

  2. Bats come to life, but Rays' freefall continues (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG —The six runs seemed like a ton, just the second time the Rays had scored that many in a game during their numbing two-plus-weeks stretch of offensive impotency, and amazingly, the first time at the Trop in nearly two months.

    Lucas Duda connects for a two-run home run in the sixth, getting the Rays within 7-5. A Logan Morrison home run in the ninth made it 7-6, but Tampa Bay couldn’t complete the comeback.
  3. Rays journal: Cesar Puello, who has one major-league game, claimed off waivers

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Looking to add punch to their right-handed lineup, the Rays claimed OF Cesar Puello off waivers Saturday from the Angels.

  4. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Saturday's Rays-Mariners game

    The Heater

    SS Adeiny Hechavarria doesn't always look like he's going hard, but he showed impressive reactions Saturday in reversing field to catch a ball that clanked off the catwalk then firing to second to double up Guillermo Heredia on an attempt to tag up.

  5. Bucs journal: Simeon Rice gives master class on sacks to defensive ends


    TAMPA — As the Bucs seek their first 10-sack season from a player since Simeon Rice in 2005, who better to help that cause than Rice himself?

    Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers great Simeon Rice works with defensive end Noah Spence (57) after practice at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Saturday, Aug. 19, 2017.