When the Ottawa Senators signed Artyom Valeriyevich Zub (or Артём Валерьевич Зуб as he’s known back home in Russia) to a one year entry level contract few could have predicted the impact he’d have at the NHL level.
As an undrafted free agent, Zub was a relatively unknown commodity to many in North America. The 25 year old Russian defenseman had 5 years of KHL service under his belt when Dorion and Co. came calling. 54pts in 256 games played for Amur Khabarovsk & SKA Saint Petersburg was a solid, but not earth shattering career total. He did however have championship experience, capturing the Gagarin Cup (the KHL’s version of the Stanley Cup, inexplicably named after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin) with SKA Saint Petersburg in 2017.
Yet it was his success on the international stage that was perhaps more indicative of his future potential. Having been a member of the Russian WJC team in 2013, and then suiting up on the Senior side to capture two Bronze medals at the World Championships, and Olympic Gold in 2018, Zub was no stranger to playing on the world's biggest stages.
Teammate and fellow countryman Artem Anisimov had this to say about the talented blue liner: “He’s got experience under his belt...He has played in the KHL, in the Olympics and the world championships. His transition to the NHL is a little bit quicker than most guys because he has that experience.”
Whatever the cause for his early season success, his steadying presence on the Ottawa blue line is a welcome sight to management and fans alike. With 3 points through his first 9 games, including a highlight reel goal against the Maple Leafs the other night, Zub has transitioned well to the NHL pace of play. The Sens will have their fair share of offensive minded defensemen coming up the ranks with players like Sanderson & Jacob Bernard-Docker joining Chabot and Brannstrom on the big club. So the need for Zub to light the world on fire with his offensive prowess isn’t there night in night out.
Will the Senators take the odd spectacular goal like when Zub hopped in the play the other day? Absolutely, but there’s something to be said about having a sound defender who is keenly aware of his responsibilities in his own end out there each game as well. For every Erik Karlsson type, you need a Marc Methot like partner that can bail out his teammates when suddenly there’s an odd man rush coming back the other direction.
Speaking of which, Zub’s early season poise has caught the eye of former Senator Marc Methot (who's been on absolute fire in the media of late, much to the delight of Sens fans) as well. On Feb 17th against the Leafs Marc tweeted “Great D zone there by Zub and Reilly against Thornton’s line. Not easy moving big bodies around at net front [sic] like that. Very underrated. That’s what you like to see. Small details.” When you’re getting praised for your defensive poise by a 13 year NHL vet in only your 9th career game, you’re definitely doing something right.
Meanwhile on the fan side of things, one need only type Zub’s name into platforms like Reddit or Twitter to discover Ottawa’s newest Russian import has already developed a cult like following online. Infact, on game days Zub’s name comes up almost as often as fans complaining about the need to eliminate the drop pass on the power play.
At the end of the day though, what are realistic expectations for “Zubban” (his alleged nickname while playing in Russia) moving forward? Igor Eronko (former KHL sideline reporter/NHL commentator turned assistant GM of IHC Avangard Omsk) describes his skill set as “Great PK specialist, good skater, sound defensively”. Darren Dreger echoed this analysis on Insider Trading when he stated “Zub... [has] the potential to be a top-four shutdown D-man in the NHL”.
The offense is certainly a nice bonus, but I think Sens fans will agree that keeping the other team off the scoreboard 5+ times a night will be a welcome contribution to the team as well. The early returns on this signing have been promising. However, with Zub set to become an RFA at season’s end, will management lock him up long term or will we see a bridge deal in Artyom’s future?
The only certainty at this point seems to be that if Zub keeps playing like he is right now, he’ll definitely be doing himself a favour come negotiation time.