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Nikita Okhotiuk didn’t really stand out for the Calgary Flames in 2023-24

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Photo credit:Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports
Mike Gould
1 month ago
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The Calgary Flames spent much of the 2023–24 season adding bodies to their blue line.
In many ways, they had to. From early on in the year, all signs pointed to Chris Tanev, Nikita Zadorov, and Noah Hanifin eventually leaving the team ahead of the trade deadline. The Flames also opted against signing either of the defencemen they selected in the 2021 NHL Draft, opening up two more spots for additional organizational depth.
Between New Years’ Day and the Mar. 8 trade deadline, the Flames added seven (!!!) different defenders: Hunter Brzustewicz, Joni Jurmo, Brayden Pachal, Daniil Miromanov, Artem Grushnikov, Joel Hanley, and Nikita Ohkotiuk. They traded for some players and claimed others off waivers, with each of them addressing different organizational needs.
Of those seven defencemen, Okhotiuk might be the one with the least certain future in Calgary. The 23-year-old Russian didn’t stand out much at either end of the ice during his brief Flames tryout and might be a victim of the numbers game this summer. Let’s take a closer look.

The past

Okhotiuk was born in the Russian city of Chelyabinsk back in 2000 and spent his formative development years playing in his hometown before being selected by the Ottawa 67’s in the first round of the 2017 CHL Import Draft.
The 6’1″ left-handed defender played the following three seasons in Ottawa, never putting up a ton of points but evidently doing enough to persuade the New Jersey Devils to use a second-round pick (No. 61 overall) on him in 2019.
Okhotiuk collected three points in 15 NHL games with the Devils over the 2021–22 and 2022–23 seasons before being traded to the San Jose Sharks (alongside Shakir Mukhamadullin, Fabian Zetterlund, and four other pieces) as part of the Timo Meier blockbuster.
The Sharks gave Okhotiuk plenty of opportunities to sink or swim in the 2023–24 regular season. More often than not, he sank — but so did most of the other players on a Sharks team that ended up finishing last in the National Hockey League. Okhotiuk finished with eight points while averaging 16:27 of ice time in 43 games with the Sharks.
Ultimately, Okhotiuk became the odd man out in San Jose. While being a depth defender for the league’s worst team typically doesn’t bode particularly well for a player’s future prospects, Okhotiuk ended up finding a new home in Calgary on deadline day.

The present

The Flames had previously traded Zadorov to the Vancouver Canucks for a 2024 fifth-round pick and a 2026 third-round pick. The fifth-rounder barely lasted three months in the Flames’ hands before being flipped to the Sharks for Okhotiuk on March 8.
Your garden-variety fifth-round pick has a pretty slim chance of ever reaching the NHL. Okhotiuk played nine NHL games with the Flames down the stretch, collecting one assist and averaging 13:21 of ice time. That’s not nothing.
But one thing that a fifth-round pick can become is a star player, even if the odds are extremely slim. Will Okhotiuk ever become a star player in the NHL? To put it kindly, the odds aren’t high.
Over his nine games with the Flames down the stretch, Okhotiuk looked less like Mark Giordano and more like Brandon Davidson. He played sheltered third-pairing minutes, generated next to nothing offensively, and managed generally unremarkable puck possession results.
In contrast to someone like Miromanov, who logged a ton of ice time and looked the part of a potential diamond in the rough, Okhotiuk mostly just blended in. That’s not the worst thing in the world for a meat-and-potatoes depth defenceman. But was it really worth trading a pick for, especially when the Flames had already added a more reliable and experienced player in Hanley just days earlier?
The Flames are stacked to the nines with depth defenders. Between Hanley, Pachal, Okhotiuk, Grushnikov, Ilya Solovyov, and Yan Kuznetsov, the Flames have a solid half-dozen no-fuss options to potentially play anywhere between 13 and 16 minutes per game on their bottom pairing. With Miromanov, Brzustewicz, and Jeremie Poirier also in the fold, it’ll be tough for the Flames to find regular roles for all of their defencemen in the NHL and AHL next season.
Yes, Okhotiuk was a second-round pick not all that long ago. In isolation, he’s not a terrible player to have around. But considering how active the Flames were in acquiring comparable (but better) defenders throughout the 2023–24 season, it’s hard not to look at Okhotiuk as being more than a little bit redundant.

The future

Boy, it’s hard to say. Okhotiuk is a pending restricted free agent who probably won’t command a huge raise over his current $789,167 cap hit, but it’s far from certain that the Flames even have a spot lined up for him next season.
Here’s the good news: Okhotiuk isn’t eligible for arbitration. Either way, he wouldn’t have a particularly strong case, but it certainly isn’t without precedent for an NHL general manager to cut bait with a fringe roster player instead of risking an arbitration headache. That isn’t in the cards here.
One would think that the Flames would qualify Okhotiuk to retain his rights, even if — as is certainly possible — he elects to return to Russia in search of a bigger payday. That kind of career move feels like it might be a little premature… but again, the Flames just might not have room for him on their NHL roster.
Barring any additional moves, the Flames will have MacKenzie Weegar, Rasmus Andersson, and likely Oliver Kylington firmly ahead of Okhotiuk on their depth chart. It’s safe to say Pachal and Miromanov also have a leg up over him at this point. With Hanley likely slotting in as the No. 7, it might come down to Solovyov, Poirier, Kuznetsov, and Okhotiuk for the final full-time spot. That’ll be a tough battle.
There’s also the chance that the Flames don’t qualify Okhotiuk and he pursues NHL employment elsewhere. He’s still relatively young for a defenceman, after all. But it’s tough to envision a player like Okhotiuk finding a full-time role in this league after having a tough time latching on with two pretty thin teams in San Jose and Calgary.
All this probably sounds a bit grim — perhaps moreso than it should. Such is life on the fringes for an aspiring NHL regular. It’s important to keep in mind that all of these players are extraordinarily talented and in the top tenth of a percent of everyone in their profession.
There’s nothing preventing Okhotiuk from putting together an enviable career in the KHL or the AHL. Whether he can make it work in the NHL is still very much up in the air. If the Flames do elect to keep him in the fold, Okhotiuk will have to find a way to differentiate himself from the pack if he wants to make a go of it in the long run.

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