Zubarev hoists World Champions trophy (Photo: AP/Darko Bandic)
Andrei Zubarev, a 27-year-old defenseman with the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev Ufa, recently told Business Online that “it’s entirely possible” he’ll be coming over to play in North America next year.
Zubarev, who was a first-time KHL all-star as well as a World Champion this season, already had one unsuccessful stint in North America during the 2010-11 season. He played only four games with Atlanta Thrashers, who drafted him in the sixth round in 2005, and 51 with the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves.
The Caps would be wise to give this late-blooming defenseman one more shot in the NHL.
Zubarev is a reliable blueliner who skates fairly well and has improved since returning to Russia. If he can adapt to a North American ice surface, he could be just as effective in the NHL.
Though Zubarev is right-handed, he may be a better fit stylistically with an offensive defenseman like Mike Green. In the last KHL playoffs, Zubarev was paired with undersized offensive defenseman Kirill Koltsov.
Zubarev will be an unrestricted NHL free agent for the first time in his career this summer. His contract with Salavat Yulaev expired on May 1st, making him a restricted free agent in the KHL as well.
Zubarev played most of the World Championship with a lacerated arm. He was initially held out of the line-up, but Dmitry Orlov’s injury and the illness of Maxim Chudinov pushed him back in, where he was mostly used as a seventh defenseman. It’s tough to say if that was the appropriate spot for him or if his injury limited him to a smaller role.
At six-foot-one, 220 pounds, Zubarev is one of the most physical players in the KHL. To his credit, he’s been on the right side of the line between tough and dirty, earning just one suspension in his long KHL career. His penalty minutes have trended down since his younger days.
If successful, Zubarev’s signing could give much-needed veteran depth to the Caps’ blue line. The player might even flourish with Barry Trotz as head coach. Trotz has coached more than a few successful defensemen in Nashville. If it doesn’t work out, they don’t stand to lose much. Zubarev would not command a contract worth much more than a million dollars and Salavat Yulaev would gladly take him back if the Caps wanted to loan him to another team.
Here are some of Zubarev’s best hits:
In his very first KHL game, Evgeni Malkin probably didn’t expect this welcome.
Wojtek Wolski got hit too.
Another ex-NHLer, Alexander Nikulin, getting some love.
While not an offensive defenseman, Zubarev can score some goals from time to time:
I love Alex Radulov‘s “villain at the end of a kids movie” reaction here.