Four years ago, it wasn’t a staggering leap of imagination to project Nikita Nesterenko ’20 as a future National Hockey League player. As a Fourth Former in 2018-19, Nesterenko scored 30 goals for Big Red on his way to a 59-point season and a selection to the All-U.S.A. Hockey third team. But finding a spot in the best league in North America is a task that requires more than just talent.
On March 21, Nesterenko took the ice for the Anaheim Ducks at the team’s Honda Center against the Calgary Flames. With his father in the arena and his mother and two siblings watching from home in Brooklyn, the 21-year-old center played 13 minutes and managed four shots on goal – equaling the team’s best on the evening – in the Ducks’ 5-1 loss. His level of offensive involvement and activity was unusual for a rookie making his debut, but Nesterenko says his teammates and coaches encouraged him to be aggressive with the puck.
“They made me more comfortable,” Nesterenko told Eric Stephens of The Athletic. “Just kind of said play your game. Take your chances. Be aggressive. I wasn’t trying to hold up.”
Nesterenko left Lawrenceville in 2019 to play junior hockey with the Chilliwack Chiefs of the British Columbia Hockey League. In his sole season in Western Canada, he logged 56 points in 56 games, including 20 goals before coming back east to play for Boston College. After being drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the sixth round of the 2019 NHL Draft, Nesterenko contributed immediately for Boston College, claiming Hockey East Co-Rookie of the Year honors after leading all of the league’s first-year players in goals, assists, and points.
It’s been a whirlwind year for Nesterenko on and off the ice in 2022-23. He tallied 34 points in 26 games this year as a junior, including a hat trick against UMass in February. Just four days after his collegiate season ended on March 11, the Ducks signed Nesterenko to a two-year, entry-level contract after acquiring his rights from Minnesota in a trade.
Just a week after that, he was skating in his first NHL action.
Nesterenko’s last season at Boston College saw his offensive production rise, and his increased competitiveness caught the eye of Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek.
“Uh, yeah, I would agree with that,” Nesterenko told Stephen in The Athletic. “The BC coaches have been harping on that, getting me to compete obviously. You won’t stay in this league very long if you don’t compete.”
As a player drafted four years ago, Nesterenko could have opted to become a free agent, but chose to sign with Anaheim in large part because of the opportunity he saw with the team.
“I had a really good conversation with Pat. He liked my game. He had a lot of belief in me, which was positive,” he explained to Stephens, adding, “once Anaheim traded for me, I looked into that and that was a great fit. Super happy to be here.”
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