For the first two-thirds of his tenure with the Flyers, Nik Zherdev looked like he didn't belong on the team. He avoided physical play like the plague, he usually didn't skate all the way back to the defensive zone (let alone play defense) and he didn't buy into Laviolette's offensive system.
All of that culminated in the Flyers waiving the supremely skilled but frustrating inconsistent Russian winger.
After going unclaimed through waivers, Zherdev began to look like a player who had hit rock bottom and finally gotten the message: he needed to change. He finally started working hard in practice, staying after to improve his conditioning and checking and making amends with Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette.
When another opportunity allowed Zherdev to once again play for the Flyers, he ran with it. By the time the playoffs rolled around, Zherdev was one of only a handful of Flyer forwards who was consistently generating his own scoring chances. He played something resembling respectable defense. He added a physical element to his game. He started to show that he was willing to play Laviolette's brand of hockey.
Zherdev's combination of slick skating, world-class offensive talent and newfound willingness to be a team player makes him an ideal fit on the Flyers third line. He has the ability to create his own shot, which should allow Simmonds to do what he does best: get in front of the net and cause mayhem. He knows how to attract attention in the offensive zone and find the open man, which should be a godsend for the young Brayden Schenn. And he can still score. A lot.
For the price, Zherdev is one of the best value players remaining on the market. Prior to last season, no coach had ever really gotten through to the enigmatic Russian winger. But somehow, someway, Laviolette did. And with Chris Pronger now firmly entrenched as the sole voice in the Flyers locker room, Zherdev's previous act will not be tolerated. And from the sample size that we have of the new-look Zherdev, he's finally started to "get it".