3. Nikita Zaitsev, D
After years of being one of the whipping boys on the Ottawa Senators, Nikita Zaitsev has been one of the Blackhawks' better defensemen this season.
While he won't wow you with his play, Zaitsev has been a reliable blueline presence. The 32-year-old Russian has a goal and four assists through 18 outings, putting him just three points back from last's total despite playing 28 fewer games thus far. He also isn't afraid to get physical, registering 29 hits while blocking 32 shots.
Additionally, his even on-ice goal differential is the best mark of his career after finishing at a minus-30 or worse in four of the five previous seasons.
Zaitsev's solid play combined with his unrestricted free agent status in the summer makes him a prime deadline trade piece. The NHL playoffs are a physical beast and championship-hungry teams would love to add someone like Zaitsev to their bottom defensive pairing. The fact that the Blackhawks will likely need to retain some of his $4.5 million salary also opens the door to receiving an additional draft pick or prospect in return.
Barring any unforeseen circumstances, I'd be shocked if Zaitsev ends the 2023-24 season in the Windy City.