It’s easy to forget Anton Belov (photo) is expected to make the Edmonton Oilers. His resume is strong, he’s certainly coming with expectations of him at a high level (Belov’s Oiler contract is for one season, his cap hit is $1.525M) and the club doesn’t hand out $600,000 signing bonuses for guys who they cut later that year.
- Belov: “I am very happy I ended up with the Oilers. Of all of the clubs the Oilers showed the most interest. First of all, I think, it’s because the team needs a defenseman of the type I am… I heard that the Oilers GM Craig MacTavish came to the World Championships and watched me play. I like the fact that the team in Edmonton is turning out to be very promising. There are young stars, especially on offense, so the club has a big future.”
Belov is a puck moving defender with size and his most recent season suggests that he’s a quality puck mover who may be able to play with the Oilers high end skill guys on the powerplay.
Belov has a very interesting player card: 22 minutes a night in both regular season and playoffs, 4 goals at equal strength and 4 more on the PP plus a shorthanded goal–so it appears he has a nice range of skills. Belov is a lefty shooter so among Oiler defenseman would have a rather clear path to the PP (the current powerplay options are Justin Schultz and Jeff Petry, both RH shots) and that’s one major item in his favor in a battle for the roster.
HOW GOOD IS HE?
The truth is we won’t know until the fall or later. Jan Hejda came over years ago and MacT never did recognize his skill level and Hejda ended up following Scott Howson to Columbus and carving out an NHL career. It’s completely possible we’ll see the same thing here–Belov has a one year deal and then he’s a free agent, so the marriage is more ‘weekend in Vegas’ than Ozzie and Harriet.
The verbal from those who have seen him is encouraging.
- Dmitry Chesnokov: “If I have to describe him in one sentence, I’d say that the past season, and considering it was a lockout season so there were a lot of NHL players in the KHL, he was probably, unofficially the best defenceman in the KHL. This is the best way to describe him. He was one of the brighter spots on the Russian national team at the World Championships. Everybody knows the … performance that team had, but he was one of the players who stood out. The amount of improvement he has shown the past few years along with his e maturity, I think Edmonton has got a great, great player.”
Belov is 27, 6.04, 215 and will have to adjust to the smaller ice. He is extremely likely to be on the third pairing this season (LH’s who are ahead of him currently are Ladislav Smid, Andrew Ference and Nick Schultz, with Oscar Klefbom rising). Still, the plan is certainly to have him on the club.
- Craig MacTavish: “I expect him to make the team. We’re planning on starting the season with him with us next season.”
The best scouting report I’ve seen on Belov also comes from the GM.
- Craig MacTavish: “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.”
I think it’s time to discuss the possibility of a trade before training camp. The Oilers have too many blue in the 5-7 range:
- Justin Schultz $3.775M
- Ladislav Smid $3.5M
- Nick Schultz $3.5M
- Andrew Ference $3.25M
- Jeff Petry $1.75M
- Anton Belov $1.525M
- Oscar Klefbom $1.224M
- Philip Larsen $1.025M
- Corey Potter $775,000
The only players with a minor league salary under $500,000 in that group? Klefbom and Belov, both $70,000. At this point I’d say Belov is a lock for this team, with Klefbom and Corey Potter the probable final cuts. I also believe the Oilers may not be done here, Nick Schultz at $3.5M for the third pairing is a little dear. And of course there’s still the possibility they land Braydon Coburn or similar in an effort to improve the top pairing.
THE STARTING 7 (AN ESTIMATE)
- Smid-Petry: A history of success, in the last full NHL season they were taking on the toughs and succeeding. Both defenders looked off in 12-13 and one would hope a full training camp and a ‘normal’ season will see them regain their old form.
- Ference-J Schultz: Schultz the younger and Nick Schultz were not an effective pairing last season,but part of that was (imo) the younger man running out of gas (he played a lot of hockey in OKC, too). Schultz the elder had terrible instincts pinching in and I don’t really think he ever figured out Krueger’s system. The calm feet of Ference are probably a better fit for the roaming Schultz.
- N Schultz-Larsen: Veteran placed with a younger, more mobile defender. Larsen is probably something of a wild card going into camp but his only real competition for this slot is Corey Potter, who belongs to a previous regime.
- Anton Belov: If there’s one thing we know it’s that the #7 guy is going to play a lot due to injury, ineffectiveness etc. Belov is a very strong #7 to my eye, and I do think he wins it over Klefbom but that is not assured. Potter is also in the mix and I think we should allow for the possibility that Edmonton carries 8 defenders.