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The curious case of Nik Zherdev

Back on July 9, when the Flyers officially inked Nik Zherdev to a one-year deal, if you could flash forward to December – what would you have expected?

Let's take a deeper look at his stats:

Where does Zherdev rank on the Flyers in these stats?

Goals: tied for 4th
Shots: 6th
Shooting percentage: tied for 3rd
Time on ice: 4th least
Blocked shots: 2nd worst
Takeaways: 6th worst
Giveaways: 7th

There are a couple ways to look at Zherdev – with the glass half-full and the glass half-empty.

Glass half-full:

  1. Supremely talented goal-scorer

  2. Played with the 4th line for the bulk of the season

  3. Has seen little power play time

  4. Can be one of the Flyers' top players when he is motivated

Glass half-empty:

  1. Doesn't hanker to play defense

  2. Not physical

  3. Only at his best with talented players

  4. Inconsistent from shift to shift, game to game

  5. Can be invisible when not motivated

For the most part, though, Zherdev has been exactly as advertised in his previous stints in the NHL. This afternoon, Zherdev will remain in the lineup, on the Flyers' hottest line with James van Riemsdyk and Jeff Carter for a change.

Zherdev enters today's game having scored in back-to-back games (since his most recent healthy scratch last Saturday) for the first time all season.

And despite his drawbacks, Zherdev is on pace for a career-high with 27 goals. That's pretty impressive considering his lack of a regular shift with talented players. The Flyers are one of only a handful of teams in the NHL with 5 players in double-digit goal scoring in mid-December.

He has been a healthy scratch for 3 games this year – and not for drawing the ire of coach Peter Laviolette, but rather because the Flyers may have the deepest crop of forwards in the NHL.

"I think he's played [two] good games," Laviolette said. "He came back much stronger [after sitting] than he played before."

Laviolette has a penchant for players who play a north-south style of game on the ice, rather than an east-west game that can sometimes get you into trouble with too much fancy play. Zherdev has had to fine-tune his game to those standards, which are certainly much different than on the Olympic-sized ice in Russia's KHL, where he spent last season.

Entering training camp, Laviolette often singled out Zherdev as the newcomer he was most excited to work with this season.

So, is this where Laviolette thought Zherdev would be at this point?

"I'm not sure I know the answer to that since I never had him and I don't know him that well," Laviolette said. "He has been stronger on the puck, with a little more of a 'north' mentality. He is trying to be physical."

Now, just 8 games away from the halfway point in this marathon season, it's hard to say that Zherdev has been a disappointment this season – given all that he's had to put up with. Besides, a 27-goal season will cost you about $2 million in today's NHL.

At the same time, Zherdev has shown the flashes of brilliance that made him the No. 4 overall pick way back in 2003. Even at 26, Zherdev remains a work in progress – but one that could pay dividends later in the season when teams hone in their focus on Mike Richards, Danny Briere, Claude Giroux and Carter.

For now, he has been who we thought he would be. And more here than anywhere else, where he would be counted on to be the main point producers, that may be just fine.

For the latest updates, follow Frank Seravalli on Twitter: @DNFlyers

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