24. Artem Zub (Reader Rank: 22, Last Year: NR)
This is an exciting time for fans of the Ottawa Senators. An in-depth, one-by-one look at the team’s farm system, featuring blue-chip talent, under-the radar prospects, and budding superstars? Sign me up! Which begs the question: is Artem Zub any of those things?
Regardless of your answer, the 6’2, 198-pound, undrafted blueliner from Khabarovsk, Russia has found his way onto this year’s list, partly for the reason that he could be the best right-handed defensemen in the organization right now. No, I’m not kidding.
Zub has spent his entire professional career in Russia, playing the last three seasons with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg. After scoring 14 points in 85 games during the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, Zub broke out for 22 points in 57 games last season, including 13 goals.
Was this an outlier, or a breakout season? He’s only just turned 25 (he’d have been under 25 if this series kicked off in the summer, and we’ve decided to keep our rankings consistent with years past), so both possibilities are definitely in play. It would appear several franchises were curious about this as well, with a mutual interest developing between Zub and numerous NHL teams. Seeing an opportunity to start an NHL career with a team in need of right-handed defensemen, he chose to sign a one-year entry-level deal in Ottawa.
Zub’s style of play can be described as, in one word, aggressive. While he lacks high-end offensive creativity, he’s willing to contribute on the attack more often than a typical stay-at home defensemen, and is more than capable at executing simple, effective plays in the offensive zone.
It’s always more difficult to analyze a player’s defence because of the lack of available footage, and specifically for this case, shot metrics aren’t tracked much at all outside of the NHL. If you’ve got a couple bucks kicking around for a subscription, Hailey Salvian and Scott Wheeler’s analysis over on The Athletic is worth a look. The piece includes many different clips from a four-game sample of Zub’s play in the KHL. Wheeler observes that Zub is aggressive on defence as well in addition to this trademark pinching in the offensive zone; he loves to move forward to hit opposing forwards off the rush. This style of play can put him out of position at times, but Wheeler also points out that Zub’s a strong skater who can recover from his mistakes.
Considering what others have said about him, Zub projects as a second-or-third-pair defender and penalty kill specialist; Ary wrote a great in-depth piece back in May which includes insights from Craig Button, Darren Dreger and Pierre McGuire. Also included here are comparisons to similar KHL free agents that have tried their luck in North America, so it’s a must read if you’re looking for additional coverage on Zub.
Going into next season on a two-way contract, Zub will need to outperform Christian Jaros, as well as one of Nikita Zaitsev, Erik Gudbranson and Josh Brown in order to make the Senators’ opening night lineup. At the very least, he’ll be part of an impressive defence corps in Belleville, that could be featuring Olle Alsing, Lassi Thomson, and perhaps Erik Brannstrom and/or Jaros. However, there’s enough to like about Zub’s game that I think he can be a regular on Ottawa’s defence corps. As I alluded to earlier, there’s a chance he could be better than any of the right-handed options on one-way deals, and if the Senators decide to keep him for more than a year, he won’t need to be protected in the Seattle expansion draft.
Overall, Zub’s up-tempo style of attacking and defending make him an intriguing option on the Senators’ back end, and there’s potential he could be part of the long-term solution the club has been trying to ice for so long.