Another Year for Anton Belov?

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One of the more difficult players to get a read on this season is Anton Belov. In his first year in North America, the Russian rearguard offered an intriguing mix of ability and error. Should the Edmonton Oilers give him another season to find his way?

By Eye

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In a lot of ways, Belov is the classic puck-moving European defenceman, but with a twist: instead of being small and fast he’s big and slow.

Belov’s strengths are many. He’s relatively poised with the puck, with an ability to make the first pass out of the zone, even under pressure (something he improved on over the course of the year). He has a heavy shot, albeit one that wasn’t used frequently enough. In the defensive zone, he has both the frame (6’4”) and the strength (218 pounds) to hold the front of the net. Versatility is also an asset, as Belov was the only Oilers defenceman who seamlessly made the transition from left side to right side and back again.

There are some weaknesses in the mix, too. The most troubling is Belov’s skating; he has heavy feet and at times he can be exposed by speed. The other issue is that at times he loses one-on-one battles it looks like he should win. Some of that’s a speed issue, some of it’s a meanness issue, but at times it looked like Belov just wasn’t prepared for the kind of pressure he was put under by opposition forwards. In a way, that might be a good sign; the game in the KHL is much more passive and a lot of that could potentially clear up now that he has a season of NHL hockey under his belt.

By Number

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Anton Belov played regularly with four different partners: Jeff Petry, Justin Schultz, Nick Schultz and Philip Larsen. If we define “regularly” as at least 100 minutes, it’s interesting to compare the performance of those players with Belov to their performance with other partners.

The table which follows shows the Corsi percentage for the Oilers with each of the following pairings on the ice:

Regular Partner  Jeff Petry  Justin Schultz  Nick Schultz 
Anton Belov 58.4 49.0 43.4
Martin Marincin 48.1  
Oscar Klefbom 44.8
Andrew Ference 45.1 42.1 41.4
Nick Schultz 37.1 38.4
Justin Schultz 38.4
Jeff Petry 37.1

(Philip Larsen was not included, as the only defence partner he spent more than 100 minutes with was Belov and so there was no other regular to contrast with. They were an extremely ineffective pairing, with a total on-ice Corsi rating of 34.7 percent).

The interesting thing here is that the three players who spent significant time with Belov and significant time with others all saw better on-ice shot rates with Belov than they did without him. Some of that may be related to role, but it’s hard to escape the idea that a lot of it has to do with Belov’s utility as a player.

My View

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The price point matters, but the Oilers could do much worse than Belov as a No. 6/7 option.

His versatility makes him fantastic for the No. 7 role because he can slide in anywhere without disrupting other pairings. He’s big enough to play with a small puck-mover, he’s a good enough puck-mover to survive with a player whose primary abilities lie elsewhere, and he can play the left or the right side. He’s also a significantly better player than other options Edmonton is likely to deploy in this role.

Additionally, there’s still some upside there. One of the Oilers’ (many) gaffes in recent years was the departure of Jan Hejda, who looked uneven in his first season in North America at around the same age Belov is now; he blossomed when he got a chance in Columbus and became a legitimate top-four shutdown defender.

On the right contract, the Oilers should be very interested in bringing Belov back.

RECENTLY BY JONATHAN WILLIS

  • The Last Big Bear

    JW, for a numbers guy it’s surprising that you do not realize that Hejda is poor corsi player. His corsi rel was -3.2%.

    Sometimes I wonder if numbers guys just pander to the dummy ex-players in the media to get by.

    Look at the numbers. They don’t lie. Struds and Suds do.

  • nuge2drai

    Oiler Domination To Follow

    You can always replace Myers in the trade scenario with defensemen like:

    Wideman, Phaneuf, Byfuglien

    or Ufas targets like:

    Orpiks, Robidas, Zidlicky, Niskanen, Nikitin

    5.5 Million is a lot of money for a defenseman, MacT should have some options.

  • Johnnydapunk

    I think that he is very similar to when Hejda was here, which has been mentioned. It’s his first year here and I think the transition was a bit rocky, but there was enough good to see that he can do alright.

    His thing for signing one year deals only to keep him playing for a new contract is also a good thing as he can be evaluated on a year to year basis.

  • Do what Weight did?

    I would sign Belov and Larson. At training camp, hold a genuine open competition for spots on the big club. If Marincin(very likely) Klefbomb (probably) and even Nurse show better in training camp, then send Belov and Larson to OKC. Future depth callups or lost on waivers, which would be like we never signed them. Or maybe Larson stays in as a forward even.

    As for Fraser, two-way deal (if that’s even possible) or let him walk. if he doesn’t sign elsewhere, bring him to camp as a pro-tryout. If he performs as one of our top 7 Dmen in camp, then keep him.

    By the way, like nearly everybody else, I’d love to also add a top-end Dman as well. Not sure if Markov is the guy, or if we could get Boyle or even Phaneuf or Myers, but I would love to see MacT get someone who would bump everyone else down a step on the depth chart. We need another Brewer (Petry this time around)for Pronger deal; I don’t see it happening, but we’ll see what the Silver Fox can do.

  • The Soup Fascist

    Look at the FA defensemen signed last August for cheap. Would you really want Belov over those guys?

    If there’s one thing MacT should focus on this offseason it’s more veterans, less question marks.

  • Do what Weight did?

    Finally someone has something good to say about him… I thought at times Belov looked like the best defenseman on our team. Unlike most of our blue, he’s got a great defenseman’s intuition on know just how much time and space he has to make a pass oit of zone and under pressure. He also does a good job of separating forwards from the puck with seemingly litle effort at times. He’s a big body and I think he gets unfairly critiqued for his footspeed. He may not be that fast but he’s a solid skater… Just as should be expected for a European. FoodStuffer should give his head a shake. He’ll sing the praises of Shultz all season and in the same breath he throws Belov inder the bus. Guy might have great recall but he couldn’t judge a defenseman’s skills if his life depended on it…or a second helping of Jelly donuts.