I know it’s been a couple of months ago now, but with the 2020 NHL Entry Draft on my mind, I think it’s time to take another look at the Ottawa Senators’ signing of KHL defenseman Artyon Zub. In early May, the 24-year-old Zub signed a one-year, entry-level contract with the team.
The fact that the Senators signed him to a one-year contract means that he won’t be starting in the minors and working his way up. No, both general manager Pierre Dorion and head coach expect he could become an immediate and valued addition to the team during the 2020-21 season. There will be no minors for Zub.
Zub’s Recent Body of Work in the KHL
During the 2019-20 season, Zub scored 13 goals and nine assists in 57 games for KHL club St. Petersburg SKA. He’s a potential keeper, a rare right-shot defenseman. There were even some suggestions that Zub could even quarterback the team’s second power-play unit.
Although in truth, from what I read, his offense is a bit predictable. He isn’t afraid to shoot, but if he’s going to contribute he might need to become a bit more creative. Whether that’s in his game or not is a question.
As Dorion said at the time of the signing, “We’re pleased that Artem has elected to pursue an NHL career here in Ottawa. Artem is a smart defensive defenseman who moves the puck well and who utilizes his strength and mobility to make plays. His extensive international resume will help him transition to a North American style of play but his key attribute is his sound ability to defend.”
The 6-foot-2 defenseman also has lots of experience on the international stage and in playoff action in Russia. He helped Team Russia win gold with the Olympic Athletes from Russia at PyeongChang 2018. He’s also a two-time winner of the bronze medal at the World Hockey Championship with Russia. In 2017, he helped his team win the KHL’s Gagarin Cup.
Zub’s Attraction for the Senators
Part of Zub’s attraction for the team is that he’s needed. There are certain to be comparisons to another Russian Nikita Zaitsev. Zaitsev came to the NHL with much better offensive records but failed to live up to them. In fact, his first season with the Senators left something to be desired.
Even within the context of Zaitsev’s poor season, there are high expectations for the undrafted defenseman who’s only starting a North American career. Specifically, Zub’s new and young – and those two qualities fit the very definition of the Senators – new and young!
Zub Worked His Way Through the KHL
In early May, Silver Seven listed Zub’s career and accomplishments. Zub’s story is about a young defenseman who started slowly but who, after a number of seasons, has grown in talent and recognition. Once Zub was traded to SKA in 2016-17, he moved from almost nowhere in Russia to the premier team in the KHL. That brought him more playoff experience, including a run to the Gagarin Cup.
Since transferring to St. Petersburg, Zub’s point production has grown. One reason is that he’s on a much better team with more skilled teammates, but he also grew more confident with the puck. It’s easy to underestimate how being with a good team during the regular season, playing regularly in the playoffs, and playing lots of international hockey can improve one’s game.
In 2018, when was on Team Russia for the Olympics, he was the second-youngest defenseman on the team. Although Zub’s offense is growing stronger each KHL season, his reputation is that of a defensive defenseman. And, if that were true, it wouldn’t be a bad thing for the Senators to have on their team. But perhaps there’s more?
Reviewing Zub’s Potential Contribution to the Senators
Some of the reviews of Zub’s potential are, as follows:
Darren Dreger: Zub has “the potential to be a top-four shutdown defenceman in the NHL.”
Pierre McGuire: emphasized his size and range and said, “[Zub] plays a simple, smart defensive game, a stabilizing player in his own zone. He’s very solid, useful and mature player. He should be able to crack the top four and it shouldn’t be much of an adjustment for him to play on the small ice surfaces.”
Craig Button: believes Zub “moves the puck efficiently and defends with a good understanding. He’s not a physical force but is certainly no pushover and he competes well; not a dynamic player but one who you know what you’re going to get.” (from “Ottawa Senators closing in on a deal Russian defenceman Artyom Zub,” Bruce Garrioch, Ottawa Sun, 31/03/20)
How Will Zub Fit In?
Hockey commentators have suggested that fans should expect Zub to be an aggressive, mobile two-way defenseman. He’s confident with the puck and will step up both defensively and offensively. He’s a strong passer with a good outlet pass. I’m not sure what it means that all of his goals were at five-on-five; perhaps he might not be a power play option. Other reviewers have different opinions on that point.
In fact, Zub might be a perfect complement to head coach D.J. Smith’s plans to have his Senators play an up-tempo style. We will see. Given Zub’s contract, the Senators are going to give him a good chance to prove what he can do before the organization decides on his final place in the organization.
I am looking forward to both where the Senators are headed over the next few seasons, and I’m also looking forward to seeing if this young Russian defenseman will become part of that movement. It looks as if he has a chance.
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