Anton Belov: The Russians Are Coming!

 

WHO IS ANTON BELOV?

Anton Belov is expected to play tomorrow night in the Oilers’ first game of the 2013-14 season. What do we know about the Russian defenseman?

The 27-year-old had a breakthrough season in the KHL last season. In 46 games for Omsk, he recorded 9 goals and 17 assists and was a plus-19 (career stats here). Belov also played well for Russia in the 2013 World Hockey Championship, tallying 1 goal and 3 assists in 8 games. He was also an impressive plus-8 in the tournament.

There is some confusion about Belov’s height and weight. For example, a recent nhl.com article first lists Belov as being 6’4″, 219 pounds but then later quotes Dallas Eakins as saying Belov is 6’3″, 185 pounds. If the first measurements are correct, Belov adds some size to the Oilers’ blueline–though he’s not advertised as a physical player.

Belov shoots left but apparently prefers to play on the right side. It’s expected that he’ll play alongside Nick Schultz on the Oilers’ bottom defensive pairing. He also possesses some offensive skill and was given some power play time during the pre-season.

 

HOW DID HE BECOME AN OILER?

Belov signed with the Oilers as a free agent this summer. According to CapGeek, his cap hit is $1,525,000 ($925,000 + $600,00 in possible performance bonuses). Belov’s contract is a two-way deal. If he gets demoted to the AHL, his salary will be $70,000.

Edmonton Journal’s Joanne Ireland reported that Belov could have made as much as $3 million to stay in the KHL. This demonstrates his commitment to succeed as an NHLer–especially considering that he came to Edmonton with the real possibility that he’d have to spend significant time in OKC earning a much smaller salary.

For the second off-season in a row, the Oilers’ weakness at defense seems to have helped them land a coveted free agent defenseman. Last year it was Justin Schultz; this year it’s Belov. I’m not suggesting that Belov is close to being as talented as Schultz, but it’s always helpful when a team can acquire a useful defenseman without having to give up any assets (other than money).

 

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT?

Dmitry Chesnokov has given Belov lots of praise. In a Puck Daddy post in June, he wrote that Belov had become “arguably the best defenseman in the KHL.” David Staples suggests that Belov might be another late-blooming European defenceman like Nikita Nikitin and Alexei Emelin.

It was thought that Belov might require some time in the AHL in order to adjust to the speed of the game in the smaller North American rinks. But after a good showing in the pre-season, Belov looks like he’ll probably stay in the NHL all year. Lowetide, in his reasonable expectations series, predicts that Belov will have 6 goals and 16 assists in 60 games.

In my opinion, the signing of Belov was one of Craig MacTavish’s strongest off-season moves. Defense is a position of need for the Oilers, and adding a player whom some consider to be one of the best defenseman in the KHL is a good bet.

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