Thursday, March 16, 2017

From Russia, with love? Sabres said to be signing KHL's Viktor Antipin

Published by, 3-14-2017

First there was the swap with Florida where the Sabres traded defenseman Mark Pysyk and two pick for defenseman Dmitry Kulikov and the 33rd overall. Then Buffalo GM Tim Murray selected Vasily Goltov, a Russian center whom Sabres selected later that day in the seventh round.

Now word has it that the Sabres are about to sign a free agent defenseman from the Kontinental Hockey League once his season is over. Sportsnet's Elliot Freidman wrote in his "30 Thoughts" today that "24-year-old Viktor Antipin is expected to join Buffalo."

Antipin is a 5'11" 179 lb. defenseman who has played for Metallurg Magnitogorsk of the KHL for the past six seasons compiling 98 points (36+62) in 266 games with a plus-66 rating. In 69 playoff games for Metallurg he upped his .37 regular season points/game to .45 ppg with 31 points on 13 goals and 18 assists.

The Sabres are left to span the globe to find defensemen because of a very thin pool. It's a situation that's caused problems with the big club but has really wreaked havoc with their AHL affiliate, the Rochester Americans. Going into the season the Amerks had three veteran d-men they were going to anchor their defense with--Justin Falk, Taylor Fedun and Eric Burgdoerfer. However, because of injuries most notably to Kulikov (who's injured again) and Zach Bogosian (missed 26 games) the Sabres pulled Falk to the big club for 45 games (and counting,) Fedun for 25 and Burgdoerfer for another two. Casey Nelson, a 2016 college free agent signee (Minnesota State) was also in Buffalo for the first nine games of the season because of the Kulikov injury.

What remained in Rochester was a skeleton crew of defensemen that have been overwhelmed all season.

Help is on the horizon in that highly touted prospect Brendan Guhle will be turning pro next season, although it looks as if he'll be headed straight to the Sabres. St. Cloud State defenseman Will Borgen (2015, 92nd overall) will be in Rochester next season and Devante Stephens (2015, 122nd) will also be eligible to play in the AHL next season. The only Rochester defenseman under contract for next season is Nelson. Brady Austin (2012, 193rd) will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season and whether or not they re-sign him is up in the air.

The Sabres were once again looking at the college free agent market and were said to be in on Minnesota State sophomore defenseman Daniel Brickley but he intends to return for his junior season. With him out of the equation Buffalo is said to be going after St. Lawrence d-man Gavin Bayreuther. According to Elliot in the same piece,  "It’s believed Dallas was the most aggressive pursuer, with Buffalo and Colorado lurking."

With the college FA market really thin this season and the team not expected to sign 2013 fifth round draft pick Anthony Florentino (Providence Friars,) I was told by Kris Baker of that the Sabres "were going hard for Euro FA's" right now and sure enough, with the news of the impending signing of Antipin, "There's the Euro."

Murray put himself in a tough spot when he focused almost exclusively on the forward group while using defensemen as currency in trades. There's been a huge shift in talent away from d-prospects and young players when he did his wheeling and dealing for young, veteran forwards. It's a self-inflicted bind he's got himself in and it will be interesting to see how they come out of this.

Right now Baker called Buffalo "desperate" and it's to the point where a real good (according to Baker) but not "amazing" prospect like Bayreuther will probably be able to burn the first year of his two-year contract this season, something they did with Nelson.

Prior to last year's draft Murray had not used a draft pick on a Russian as GM in Buffalo. There's always been this thought that he's had an aversion to players from the Motherland. Perhaps it's gotten to the point where every area in the world's been scouted so much, from North American colleges to Denmark, Finland and Sweden that there's really not much uncharted territory out there, except for maybe Russia because of the so-called "Russian Factor."

Times may be changing, see Artemi Panarin and Nikita Zaitsev, to name a couple, and teams may have no choice but to scour Russia for players.

And that includes Murray and the Buffalo Sabres.

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