Stefan Elliott surprised many when he left North America as a restricted free agent 2016 and signed with the KHL’s Ak Bars Kazan. The Canadian defenseman had just finished a season in which he played in 21 NHL games, the second most of his career, and looked like he might be a fit as a depth option for the Nashville Predators after they had acquired him mid-season from the Arizona Coyotes. This time around, coming off a return home that yielded just three NHL appearances, it comes as less of a shock that Dinamo Minsk of the KHL has announced that they have signed Elliott to a one-year contract.
Elliott, 28, was an impending unrestricted free agent with his one-year deal signed last summer with the Pittsburgh Penguins expired. After two years abroad, in Russia and Sweden respectively, the Penguins brought Elliott in as a potential minor league leader and deep blue line depth option. A 2009 second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche, Elliott had always been very successful in the AHL and Pittsburgh hoped for the same and possibly more. Instead, Elliott got off to a slow start with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and was traded to the Ottawa Senators in a swap of minor pieces. Elliott got to play in three games with Ottawa and also put up strong numbers with AHL Belleville.
Regardless, even with the Senators there did not seem to be long-term opportunity for Elliott to play a significant role, so a move back to Europe seemed like a strong possibility. The ongoing UFA discussion window likely confirmed Elliott’s doubts of finding a suitable NHL offer. He thus returns to the KHL, where he recorded 11 points in 31 games a few years ago, but joins a new team in Minsk. The club is excited about the addition, but so too should be Elliott, who could very likely be the team’s top player next season. Teemu Pulkkinen, Quinton Howden, and Patrick Wiercioch have departed and the aging Kostitsyn brothers, Sergei Kostitsyn and Andrei Kostitsyn, and former collegiate and minor leauge defender Oleg Yevenko are the only other notable players on the roster. As the go-to guy, Elliott could be in for a productive season that once again sparks interest back in North America.