The Arizona Coyotes have dipped into the KHL free agent market, signing Ilya Lyubushkin to a one-year entry-level contract. Lyubushkin has played the last five seasons for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, but will try his hand at the North American game in 2018-19. GM John Chayka quickly explained what Lyubushkin will bring to the team:
We are pleased to sign Ilya to a one-year contract. Ilya is a big, physical defenseman who skates well and moves the puck effectively. He will add size and toughness to our blue line.
He’s not lying when he claims Lyubushkin will add some toughness to the Coyotes defense corps, as he was one of the most feared hitters in the KHL the last several seasons. With a knack for stepping up at the offensive blue line to crush oncoming wingers, the 6’2″ 209-lbs defenseman is a different player than any other on the Arizona roster. That physical presence will be welcome, though there are still questions about his all-around game.
The Coyotes have five players penciled into their defense corps already, with Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Jakob Chychrun all deserving spots when healthy. That leaves another opening for young players like Kyle Capobianco or Dakota Mermis, or Lyubushkin if he can prove his worth right away. The fact that he’s right-handed may help, but he’ll still have to show that he can move the puck quickly and effectively and keep up with the North American game before really making an impact for the Coyotes.
Still, it’s hard to complain about this contract from an Arizona perspective. Though he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer, there is very little risk for the club in seeing what he can bring in North America. If he’s forced to return to the KHL after one season, the team only sunk a few hundred thousand dollars and a contract slot into the investment.