Each day from now until July 1, the day free agency begins, Sarah Baicker and Tim Riday will profile some of the NHL's top impending free agents and project their likelihood of signing with the Flyers.
Nikita Nikitin, defenseman
Last team: Columbus Blue Jackets
2013-14 cap hit: $2.15 million
Nikitin isn't as physical as his 6-4, 223-pound frame would lead you to believe, but he has a nice combination of mobility and anticipation, which he displays often. Perhaps his greatest asset is his poise. He's very reliable in his own zone and rarely makes bad mistakes when handling the puck. He could stand to be a little more aggressive and showcase his heavy shot from the point more often.
Before the St. Louis Blues selected Nikitin in the fifth round of the 2004 NHL draft, the towering defenseman spent several seasons playing for Avangard Omsk of the Russian Super League, where he established himself as one of the league's strongest shutdown defenders. He played just 48 games in two seasons for the Blues before being traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2011. Last season, he played a vital role on the Jackets' blue line as the team reached the playoffs for just the second time in franchise history.
I actually like Nikita Nikitin. He's a fluid skater and a puck mover. He's got size and he's defensively responsible -- and wherever he goes in 2014-15, he'll go rather inexpensively. Nikitin was playing 17 minutes a night in Columbus, but odds are he'll head somewhere else to rebuild his career, and might sign a shorter deal because of it. With Erik Gustafsson gone, the Flyers might elect to flesh out their defense without rushing younger prospects, and if they do, Nikitin is an intriguing option.
This is a player I'd like to see the Flyers go after this summer. Is he a top-pair caliber defenseman? Probably not. But he is only 27 and displays all-around acumen. Most importantly, he is effective in the defensive zone. We all know the Flyers could use a defenseman who actually thinks defense first. Nikitin will probably be seeking anywhere between $2.5 million and $4 million per year. The problem here is the Flyers already have Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn and Niklas Grossmann under contract. It's entirely possible that could change in the near future. So adding Nikitin, for the right price, could be a risk worth taking.