What was considered to be one of the worst kept secrets in Buffalo was finally confirmed Thursday afternoon when the Buffalo Sabres announced the signing of free agent defenseman Victor Antipin.
NEWS: The Sabres have signed defenseman Victor Antipin to a one-year, entry-level contract. pic.twitter.com/0nrkOF37tn
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) May 25, 2017
Who Is Victor Antipin?
Antipin, 24, comes from Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the Kontinental Hockey League, where he tallied 98 points (36 goals, 62 assists) in 298 regular season games.
He comes to the National Hockey League for the first time in his young career, on a one-year deal. Per the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement rules, Antipin was only able to sign a one-year deal due to his age and this being an entry-level contract.
There was little secret throughout the Western New York area that the franchise was high on Antipin. With the addition of general manager Jason Botterill, those feelings have only grown stronger.
[miptheme_quote author=”Sabres General Manager Jason Botterill” style=”text-center”]Victor is a well-rounded defenseman who has played in all situations at the pro level. His mobility and puck-moving skills make him a perfect match for what we’re hoping to build with our defense corps next season.[/miptheme_quote]
What Do We Know?
For those who do not frequently watch the KHL, Antipin’s arrival may be a little confusing. Not to worry, we brought in a KHL expert to discuss who Antipin is and what Buffalo might be able to expect.
We spoke with Aivis Kalnins, KHL/European Hockey Insider for Beyond the Blade, about the arrival of Antipin.
THW: What type of defenseman is Victor Antipin?
AK: Victor is a good puck moving two-way defencemen who can play in all situations, has a great pair of skates. He isn’t the biggest guy out there but certainly, can throw a hit if needed. Great powerplay specialist. Mobile guy who can create chances and hustle back if necessary.
THW: Are there any NHL defensemen you can compare the game of Antipin to?
AK: Nikita Zaitsev is a great comparable but Antipin has more of an offensive touch and is better defensively.
THW: Do you expect Antipin’s game to easily translate to the speed of the NHL?
AK: He loves to be creative and he will keep being that, it’s something switching over won’t change. What I would be concerned about is the time it could take for him to get used to North American-sized surface, other than that everything that he will have to learn he will do it. Also, a lot does depend on how much of freedom coach will give him.
THW: This obviously depends on a coach’s decision, but where do you believe Antipin’s game best fits in – top pairing, top four or bottom pair?
AK: I would say he will start off playing on bottom pair, with time on power play, but after he adjusts he will be Sabres 3rd or 4th D-man.
THW: Antipin has a reported clause in his contract that allows him to return to the KHL if he doesn’t break the Sabres opening night roster – do you see this as a potential roadblock for the player?
AK: Yes, the clause is the well known amongst KHL FA’s where if assigned to AHL, Buffalo Sabres will have to assign him to Magnitogorsk instead, but they will maintain him under contract with a chance to recall. However since right now it’s a one-year deal, I don’t believe that he will have that clause in his contract.
How Will This Affect the Sabres?
Many people may begin to wonder immediately how this free agent acquisition will affect Buffalo’s offseason plans of essentially rebuilding the team’s defense on-the-fly. This signing is a step in the right direction for the franchise, a first of many positive steps needed.
Remember, Buffalo now only has six defensemen under contract at this time: Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Josh Gorges, Jake McCabe, Justin Falk and Victor Antipin.
We know how poorly last season’s defensive core performed overall, despite some bright spots. There seems to be no fathomable scenario where Buffalo would enter the 2017-18 NHL season with these six defensemen as their top-six.Logically thinking, you have at least four of a top-six currently under contract with Antipin, Bogosian, McCabe and Ristolainen.
Gorges has been mentioned previously as a popular buyout candidate and rightfully so. He has seen better days defensively, but might be able to hold on for the final year of his deal as a sixth defenseman.
Moves are set to be made, with this offseason rumored to be the “busiest in the 100-year history of the National Hockey League“. Buffalo should have a handful of moves coming over the next two months that will help them rebuild their defense for next season.
Ryan is a sportswriter and podcaster, with his focus centered on the Buffalo Sabres. He is a resident of the Rochester, New York area. Ryan looks to build his pieces with a fact-based backbone to educate the reader, while allowing them to mold their own opinions.