Ottawa Senators Report Cards: Artem Zub

Zuuuuub's simple, responsible game earned him good marks

Ottawa Senators Report Cards: Artem Zub
Photo by Bogdan condr / Unsplash

Reader Grade: B, Staff Grade: A-

Artem Zub has come to occupy an important place in Sens lore. First of all, his name is objectively fun to chant. The fact that he was Russian, untalkative and mysterious added to the mystique. And, most importantly, it's rare to have an undrafted player come over to the NHL in their mid-20s and have such an impact. The Sens could use another right-shot defenceman, but imagine where they'd be if they hadn't struck gold with Zub.

Zub is what most teams dream of: a complementary right-handed defenceman. We saw what that can mean this year with his most-common teammate, Jake Sanderson. While Sanderson is the star of that pairing, Zub quietly allowed Sanderson to thrive by being in position, serving as the pass when the outlet wasn't there, and just generally playing stout defense. The two finished at 55% expected goals in more than 800 minutes together at 5v5 (Natural Stat Trick) – no small feat on a Sens team that wasn't defensively the best this year. We see it in several statistical models. Louis Boulet's posited that these two excel at nearly everything together.

JFresh's model showed Zub as an incredible shutdown guy (though limited offensively).

Again, these results came on a subpar defensive team. Micah McCurdy's models agree again, that what he lacks in offence he more than makes up for in defence.

And if we go to the PK, we again see a reduction in shots, especially in the low slot. (The only worrisome thing here is that right in front of the net on the right side shows an uptick. Maybe he's forced to give up that spot to cover in front of the net too much?)

If traditional counting stats are more your thing, he set career highs in assists (20) and points (25), playing a more-than-respectable 21:01 per night. After missing 29 games last season with injury, he only missed 13 this year. He also did this at a cap hit of just $4.6M, and will make that for three more seasons. It's possible to argue that, as a top-pairing shutdown defenceman, he was this team's top non-ELC bargain.

As with all things, Zub is not without his downside. While I would've considered him a plug-and-play defender who can succeed with anyone, he really only got positive results with Sanderson and Brännström (58% xGF). With both Chabot and Chychrun, he finished below 50% xGF at 5v5. It's hard to know what to make of this, given both those two have in turn succeeded with other partners. Still, given that Zub stands to play the bulk of his minutes with Sanderson the next few years, that discrepancy probably isn't worth losing sleep over. If you want to take it a step further, it's not unreasonably to posit that the pairing might even be worth more than the sum of its parts; it doesn't take a genius to see that their on-ice chemistry is real.

It's probably safe to say a guy like Zub stood to benefit the most from a coaching change. The defensive structure and stability of Jacques Martin's style played better into the hands of a responsible, stay-at-home guy than DJ Smith's relative chaos. He's probably hoping that whoever they bring in next brings a similar culture and style. Zub reminds me a lot of a prime Niklas Hjalmarsson: a guy who doesn't put up points or dominate the hits or shot-blocks categories, but who constantly finds himself on the right side of the shot and chance battles while playing tough minutes. Those players are valuable.

In the end, Zub was mostly what we hoped for this season: dependable, unflashy, defensively strong, a great complement to Jake Sanderson. Oh, and a fun name to chant. ​If the team could clone him, they absolutely would. His grade reflects that he will never steal the limelight, but he's always good. While he'll never be fighting for an A+, I'll be shocked if he ever finishes below a B on his current contract. He's steady, smart, and plays simple hockey. Now if the Sens can just find a way to make the playoffs, he'll be the perfect playoff performer. For now, we'll have to settle for him being half of the Sens' best defensive partnership in the regular season.

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