Late this week we learnt that the Edmonton Oilers signed defenseman Anton Belov from the Kontinental Hockey League. Belov is listed at 6’4″ and 185 pounds; the imposing figure any blue line would like to have.
Dmitry Chesnokov via Twitter said that as many as seven teams were after Belov, including the Pittsburgh Penguins. In the end the Oilers won his rights and have signed him to a one-year entry level deal.
His resume is impressive according to the official press release, courtesy of the Edmonton Sun. The 26-year old Russian has played in the KHL for the past five seasons, totalling 277 games. In that span he’s scored 15 goals and added 49 assists.
But last season could be considered Belov’s breakthrough campaign where he scored a career high 9 goals and 17 assists, good for 26 points in 46 games. The more impressive stat though is his plus-19. In addition to that, in 12 playoff games he was an astonishing plus-24.
Furthermore, Belov was a member of the Russian national team that took part in the 2013 World Hockey Championships this spring. During the competition he scored 1 goal and added 3 assists in 8 games.
This sounds like a promising new defenseman for the Oilers and if you ask Craig MacTavish, signing Belov is “step one” according to Terry Jones of the Edmonton Sun.
According to MacTavish, Belov is expected to be in the Oilers starting lineup next fall and that he doesn’t view the Russian defenseman as a development player. Meaning the expectations will be huge for him to come to a new organization and perform immediately.
MacTavish admits that he personally never scouted Belov during his regular season in the KHL. But a posse of Oiler managment made the trek to the World Championships to see what the fuss was all about and after talking with several scouts at the tournament, the verdict was clear.
Belov was considered to be one of the top defenseman in the KHL last season, a high regard none the less. And MacTavish and company liked what they saw from what they call a mobile defeseman, courtesy of the Sun.
“It’s a move to trying to build more mobility into our back end. He moves the puck well. He makes quick decisions with the puck. He has a high skill level and competes hard. The expectation is that he’s going to come in and help us. He’s big. He plays heavy. He’s got some toughness.”
But is Anton Belov the answer to the Oilers blue line woes that plagued them last year? Yes he comes highly regarded from the KHL, an extremely competitive pro-league that has garnered more respect over the past years. But it’s still not the NHL and success across the pond doesn’t necessarily translate into success in North America.
The Oilers have the opportunity to bolster their back end via free agency this summer, but that route can cost more money than what the players are sometimes worth. Trades are always a possibility but to secure a top-two defenseman the club would have to give up a considerable amount of youth and that may not be in the cards, at least not this summer.
Whether or not Belov is the answer to shore up the Oilers blue line that MacTavish and company believe he is won’t be determined until the regular season is well under way next year. To put all their hope and faith in this one player would be foolish for Mac-T so let’s hope that further additions to the Oilers blue line are still part of the off-season plan. If not, it’s hard to buy into this “change” promise that we’ve been told will be happening in Edmonton.