The Russian-led Kontinental Hockey League has poached yet another Edmonton Oilers player from the team. Along with Centre Roman Horak, Anton Belov and Denis Grebeshkov, the Oilers said goodbye today to Philip Larsen. Larsen was acquired by the Oilers last fall in the Shawn Horcoff trade along with a seventh round draft pick.
Before fans start to have a seizure over the threat of the KHL to the Edmonton Oilers, however, it is prudent to keep in mind that the players Edmonton have been losing are not major pieces in the ongoing puzzle management is trying to complete.
Horak was a depth acqusition in the Smid trade. Larsen and Belov were bottom rung defensemen last year. Larsen showed a little bit of offensive acumen, scoring twelve points over 30 games, good enough for about 30-35 points over a full season. He was even moved to the wing as a forward late in the season, which showed Coach Dallas Eakins saw some firepower in him.
Like most other defensemen on the Oilers, his overall play was just not good enough. Certainly, the poor defensive systems in Edmonton (cough, fire Steve Smith, cough) led to an uneven game on Larsen’s part, but the formula for protecting the net and getting the puck out of one’s own zone is basic. None of the Oilers d-men were experts at this, and its a surefire bet that management will be after some nimble shut down defenders in addition to the holy grail that is a Shae Weber type player in the top 2.
Regardless of the problems on Edmonton’s blue line, fans needn’t worry about a massive exodus of players to the KHL. Optically, yes, it does look pretty bad. Ultimately, however, these are cases of teams with big wallets asking fringe NHLers to come play for a bit of a payday. It makes the KHL look like a destination for disfranchised NHL players, but the reality is that outside of Ilya Kovalchuk and Jaromir Jagr, very few marquee players ever make the jump to a league that no one has interest in outside of Russia.
Is Nail Yakupov a target? Sure, him and every other competent Russian player in the NHL. I am sure he will be lured with offers of superstardom and great riches, but one solid season in Edmonton should solve that. He hasn’t seen us go ballistic quite yet.