July 18 2013 11:18PM
Among the things I didn't expect to see this summer: Craig MacTavish going against the grain (and channeling Moneyball) by shopping in the Russian market. A year ago, the Oilers drafted Yak City #1 overall, and this summer the organization is adding Russians--going against the market--in hopes of value add. Sound like Moneyball? Yes. Yes it does.
STRANGE DAYS INDEED: AT THE DRAFT TABLE
From 1979 through 2011, the Edmonton Oilers called 339 names at the annual entry draft. Of those, just 22 were Russians. That's a very low total, (6.5%) but consider what's happened since:
- 2011 entry draft: Nail Yakupov and Daniil Zharkov (2 out of 7)
- 2012 entry draft: Anton Slepyshev and Bogdan Yakimov (2 out of 10)
4 out of 17, or about 23.5% since Nail's name was called by the Oilers. I think it's easy to overlook how big a deal Nail Yakupov is in Russia--they haven't had a lot of #1 overall picks over the years--and credit to the Oilers for taking advantage of the opportunity and finding draft value in areas other teams aren't looking (or are shying away from). Their two picks this season may not come over right away, but both are terrific talents and absolutely value selections where they were taken at the 2013 entry draft.
FREE AGENT SIGNINGS
Craig MacTavish also went the extra mile in free agency, signing sought-after Anton Belov (considered the KHL's best available defenseman) and then earlier today signing Denis Grebeshkov for a return tour with the Oilers. Should either turn into a useful NHL defenseman, he'll be considered one of the true bargains of free agent summer 2013. Grebeshkov has performed well in the NHL (with the Oilers) and is young enough to enjoy a productive NHL career if things break right for him this season.
There's a chance Edmonton breaks camp with three Russians this coming season (Yakupov, Belov, Grebeshkov) and I can't remember the last time that happened.The number of Russian players in the NHL has been decreasing over the last several years, Edmonton appears to be determined to go against the grain.
WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?
Craig MacTavish went about improving his NHL defense this season through free agency. After signing Anton Belov from the KHL, he added one of the gems from free agency in Andrew Ference and then increased the depth of the blueline by signing Denis Grebeshkov today.
At some point this coming season, the Oilers may ice a defensive group that has 2 Russian free agents on it. That's a moneyball move---finding useful talent at a value price that others are overlooking.
Huh. What's the Russian phrase for 'smart bet'? Craig MacTavish may not be able to pronounce it, but he knows it all the same.