Last week the Edmonton Oilers agreed to terms with Anton Belov, a 26-year-old Russian defenseman who spent the last five seasons with Avangard Omsk in the KHL.
Belov is the CSKA Youth Academy alumnus, who has become arguably the best defenseman in the KHL. Having achieved everything he could in the KHL, according to Belov himself, he decided it was time for the NHL.
It was about a year and a half ago that Belov realized he was ready for the NHL, the player told R-Sport.
“A lot of factors influenced that decision. First of all, it is a dream. The rest are just secondary reasons. Last year I stayed with Avangard, and I don’t regret it… I gained a lot of experience. And I realize that if it’s time to go to the NHL, then the time is now or never.”
Because Anton Belov was undrafted when he signed, he had an opportunity to pick and choose his club, with about half a dozen interested, according to his agent.
“I am very happy I ended up with the Oilers,” Belov said.
“Of all of the clubs the Oilers showed the most interest. First of all, I think, it’s because the team needs a defenseman of the type I am… I heard that the Oilers GM Craig MacTavish came to the World Championships and watched me play. I like the fact that the team in Edmonton is turning out to be very promising. There are young stars, especially on offense, so the club has a big future.”
Belov signed a one-year entry-level two-way deal and is very driven to prove himself.
“First of all, I want to develop professionally. I had a chance to sign a multi-year contract with Omsk this summer and provide for myself and my family for a very long time. But I think that these things make an athlete relaxed. When you know that you have a contract, that the money is coming, a feeling of easy and fullness sets in and the development halts right away,” Belov stated.
“You can even tell yourself ‘Everything is good, I am working,’ and at the same time you’re standing still. This is what I am afraid of. This is the reason I have always signed minimum term contracts, preferably for one year. I want to grow, progress and that’s why I made a decision to go to the NHL. I need to be demanding to myself until the end.”
Belov hopes to utilize his offensive skills in the NHL the same way he did in the KHL, hoping that the Oilers picked him for his creative abilities as well as his defensive play. At the same time Belov realizes that he will need to adjust to the physical nature of the game in North America.
“I have set a goal for myself this summer: I need to get more physical. Strengthen shoulders first of all, because there is a lot of contact in the NHL, the ice is smaller and there are a lot of hits. And, of course, you have to try to get rid of the puck as soon as possible, and not to mess around with it for too long… Mistakes are not forgiven in the NHL.”
Belov is expected to arrive in Canada well ahead of the training camps to find housing and to get to know the city. It is unclear if Nail Yakupov will provide any advice, as the two do not know each other – at least for now.
However, communication should not be an issue for Belov because his English is good enough already.
“There have been so many English speaking specialists in Avangard the last few years,” Belov says. “I should have no problems communicating with the coaching staff, teammates and the media.”