With the KHL season over, there continue to be numerous rumors connecting foreign free agents, young and old, with interested NHL teams. Trusted European hockey insider Igor Eronko of NHL.com says that Lokomotiv Yaroslavl defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin is next up. Eronko relays the message that Lyubushkin is set to sign with the Arizona Coyotes.
While no terms of the deal have leaked yet, the 24-year-old Lyubushkin seems to be more of gamble on upside for the Coyotes rather than a player expected to start immediately without issue. The contract will most likely be for relatively little money and may even be of a two-way nature. In 2017-18, Lyubushkin tallied just nine points in 50 games, which was fifth among Lokomotiv defenseman. The stay-at-home defender was more effective in his own zone, posting a +14 rating, but even this was fourth on the team. Lyubushkin’s only noticeable lead on Yarolslavl was in penalty minutes, where he was tops by a wide margin due to his propensity for the physical side of the game.
What the Coyotes likely see in Lyubushkin is a strong, young blue liner who already has extensive pro experience, with five years with Lokomotiv under his belt. A right-shot defenseman under 25 with that much experience doesn’t hit free agency very often and Arizona likely hopes that his more conservative games translates well to the NHL. They could use him sooner rather than later, as Luke Schenn’s free agency leaves only Jason Demers as a right shot on the Arizona back end. Even in the AHL, there are no better righty options to step in than Lyubushkin, as only college free agent Jordan Gross – a similar style player to Lyubushkin – looks ready to play at the pro level. Of course, this situation could all change this off-season in free agency or if the ’Yotes land elite defenseman Adam Boqvist in the draft (though they would of course prefer lefty Rasmus Dahlin), but for now Lyubushkin looks to be a sleeper pick to fill a regular role with Arizona in the next year or so.