Nikulin close to signing with Thrashers
Russian national team defenseman Ilya Nikulin is close to signing a contract to play for the Thrashers this season, his agent said Thursday.

"At least in terms of dollars, the deal is done," Scott Lites said, adding that the last sticking point is working out wording that will protect his client from spending the season with the Thrashers' minor league affiliate in Chicago rather than Atlanta.

Nikulin is willing to give the Thrashers the flexibility of sending him to Chicago for 14 days, Lites said, but, "It doesn't make sense for him to spend his whole season down there" rather than in Russia if he doesn't earn a spot in Atlanta.

Nikulin, a second-round draft pick in 2000, is a stay-at-home defenseman who has played for Dynamo of Moscow and Ak Bars of Kazan. He's 26, 6-foot-3 and has played for Russia in the last three world championships. If he signs, he'll be the third big offseason addition to the Thrashers defense, after the signing of free agent Ron Hainsey and the drafting of Zach Bogosian.

"Ilya would like to come over and get the ball rolling," said Lites, adding that a contract needs to be worked out soon for two reasons:

Russian training camps open in a couple of weeks.

It will take time to get Nikulin a visa to enter the United States.

Thrashers general manager Don Waddell confirmed the team would like to sign Nikulin. There were contract talks last summer, too.