Another team eyeing overseas talent this off-season is one whose off-season has yet to begin. Russian news source Sport-Express reports that SKA St. Petersburg defenseman Yegor Yakovlev is planning to sign with the New Jersey Devils. It seems that GM Ray Shero and company have stayed busy on the talent acquisition front for next season, despite the team still being focused on their first-round playoff series.
Yakovlev, 26, is yet another talented member of KHL powerhouse SKA. Teammates like Ilya Kovalchuk, Nikita Gusev, Sergei Plotnikov, and Mikko Koskinen are among many on the roster who could sign in the NHL this summer, but Yakovlev seems to be closest to a concrete deal. Yakovlev lost games due to injury in 2017-18, but last season set career highs with 21 points and a +30 rating in 56 games. He made up for some missed time this year with a strong showing for Russia at the Olympics as well, skating on the team’s top pair. A high-energy two-way defenseman, Yakovlev certainly appears to have the talent to push for a regular role in the NHL.
Where exactly he fits in New Jersey is a different question. The Devils surprised many this season by earning a playoff berth just one season after finishing near the bottom of the league. Part of that turnaround has been the improved play on the blue line, greatly aided by the additions of Sami Vatanen and Will Butcher. On the left side, where Yakovlev plays, New Jersey has Butcher, captain Andy Greene, and – for now – John Moore. While admittedly it’s not as strong as the right side of Vatanen, Damon Severson, Ben Lovejoy, and seventh-man Steve Santini, it’s still a solid group and a consistent one at that, with all three playing in 81 games this year. Even if Moore, an impending unrestricted free agent, was to leave the Devils, Mirco Mueller is a promising lefty in need of some play time. While healthy competition never hurts, it certainly seems like Yakovlev is signing on to a situation where he won’t be guaranteed a starting job without earning it.