Nikita Okhotiuk is excited to finally make an impact on the San Jose Sharks.
Acquired in February from the New Jersey Devils in the Timo Meier trade, he was shut down without ever appearing in teal because of lower-body core muscle surgery.
“When it happened, it was less pain,” Okhotiuk said of the road to surgery. “It kept getting more and more. We were trying to find out the injury. Finally we did, tried to do some stuff to avoid surgery, but it didn’t work. So, I did the surgery and I think that’s the right decision.”
Between the injury and eventually deciding on surgery, Okhotiuk had to uproot his life and move across the country. Due to his injury, he came to San Jose with lots of free time to explore.
“I was really excited to come here,” he continued. “It’s a new page for me, which I’m okay with.”
GM Mike Grier, who was with the New Jersey Devils when they selected Okhotiuk in the second round of the 2019 Draft, continues to be high on the Russian prospect. Okhotiuk said he met Grier at his first Devils training camp.
Grier said recently of Okhotiuk: “We didn’t get to see [him] at the end of the year through injury, but it’s good to see him skating the way he was skating today. He looks healthy and confident as well.”
Okhotiuk had been skating since mid-July and had a mostly full summer of training under his belt. As he described, he practiced “doing what I do, getting better at skating, shooting, and hitting people.”
Physicality is the trademark of the 6-foot-1 defender’s game.
“I’m just defending the goalie,” Okhotiuk said of his playing style. “I don’t like when they get scored on. Try to play physical as much as I can. Not just running around and being stupid, but if I have a chance, I’ll hit. I don’t like to play dirty. A more defensive D.”
“I don’t think Nikita got talked about too much about being part of the deal, but he was a huge part for us,” the San Jose Sharks said after the Meier trade. “Our scouts love him and he’s a throwback player. We think he’s going to be a big part of the future.”
Meanwhile, puck-moving is supposed to be a weakness. But Okhotiuk has opened some eyes so far in camp in that regard.
“The physical side of his game, everybody told me about,” head coach David Quinn shared. “I’d never seen him play, but I’ve liked his skill level [at camp]. He’s made some good plays. He’s jumped in the rush at the right time. He scored a great goal. There’s been other things that I hadn’t heard about from his game. Now the key is does that transfer to the games?”
Sweet hands from Okhotiuk! pic.twitter.com/LdwCD2N5vx
— Sheng Peng (@Sheng_Peng) September 22, 2023
Before the injury, the 22-year-old skated in 20 games with the Utica Comets and 10 with the New Jersey Devils last season. So he’s got some NHL experience. But can he be a regular?
It’s a crucial camp for Okhotiuk, who is not waiver-exempt, and is battling with for a spot with 10 other defensemen who have reasonable claims at an NHL job, including regulars like Jan Rutta, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, and Mario Ferraro, and other young options like Henry Thrun and Nikolai Knyzhov.
Okhotiuk hopes his improved two-way game will result in a roster spot on opening night. But he’s not thinking that far ahead. He continues to focus on “just doing my job. That’s pretty much it. I’m not thinking about other things. Focus on every day, and not thinking about tomorrow.
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