Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, especially when it comes to the Flames. After weeks of speculation, Calgary has officially announced that they have signed Russian defenseman Alexander Yelesin to an entry-level contract. It is a two-year, maximum ELC for the 23-year-old blue liner, who is expected to compete for a starting job immediately next season in Calgary.
Back in April, following the Flames’ unexpectedly early exit from the postseason, head coach Bill Peters spoke vaguely about several expected import players that he believed could be factors for the team in 2019-20. NHL insiders quickly identified goaltender Artyom Zagidulin and Yelesin as two of those players. While Zagidulin had already signed, Yelesin had yet to put pen to paper on a contract, fueling the anticipation of this pact. The two sides finally got that deal done today, with Yelesin being cut from Team Russia at the IIHF World Championships likely playing a role.
In Yelesin, the Flames are adding a KHL All-Star from this past season, considered one of the most reliable defensemen in the league. Yelesin is not a flashy player by any means – his offense is modest and his size is average – but he is nothing if not consistent. The 5’11”, 195-lb. defenseman was a force on the back end on a regular basis for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl this season, playing strong, safe defense and leading all defensemen in games played, while also contributing ten points. Yelesin, who is also a valued right-shot defender, hopes that he can bring that same reliable defensive game to Calgary. If there’s a knock on Yelesin though, it is that he can get into penalty trouble, which he will have to work on as he transitions to the faster, stronger NHL.
With Yelesin in the fold now, Calgary has incredible depth on the blue line already – and the off-season hasn’t even begun. If anything, expect the Flames to potentially shed a defenseman this summer rather than add. Without any further moves, Yelesin would have to compete for a roster spot with veteran Michael Stone and fellow European youngsters Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington, and Juuso Valimaki just to get play time on the bottom-pair behind a top-four of Mark Giordano, T.J. Brodie, Travis Hamonic, and Noah Hanifin. That’s likely more competition than the Flames would like to enter camp with, although too much depth never hurt anyone.