For months the rumors surrounding KHL defenseman Viktor Antipin and his potential move to the NHL have swirled. From the moment the Buffalo Sabres regular season ended, talk about Antipin joining the blue and gold seemed to pick up steam daily. Now, it appears that's almost a certainty.
According to Russian newspaper Sport-Express, Antipin told reporters he plans on leaving for Buffalo on May 29th. The 24-year-old defenseman says he hasn't signed anything official yet but has an opportunity in Buffalo he wants to explore.
"I'm still young," Antipin told reporters. "I can not say what I achieved in the KHL, it's not that, I just got a good offer, I'm interested in it."
Hearing Viktor Antipin is set to sign with the Buffalo Sabres. Player also told ''Sport Express'' that he is arriving in Buffalo next week.
— Aivis Kalni?š (@A_Kalnins) May 21, 2017
But who is Antipin and what kind of player are the Sabres potentially getting? We asked KHL insider Aivis Kalni?š what kind of player.
Question: What can Sabres fans expect from Antipin?
"Sabres fans can expect a new leader in the locker room, a guy with winning experience and overall fun guy. A passionate player who has a spark and willingness to go out there and prove that he belongs in the National Hockey league. A tiny guy with a huge heart."
Question: What are his strengths and weaknesses as a player?
"His main strengths are his ability to carry the puck up the ice, creating offensive zone chances, but at the same time playing a hustle back game making him a well-rounded two-way defenseman. I would compare him to Nikita Zaitsev in a way, but Antipin has a slightly better defensive and offensive game. Him being a smaller guy doesn't make an impact on his physical play, he isn't afraid to throw a hit. One of the rare players that can play in all situations. Lacks a bit of consistency from time to time. Sometimes he takes one too many penalties due to the fact that he gets carried away when it comes to forechecking."
Question: Do you see his game translating well to the NHL?
"While it's clear that he is unlikely to be a top pair guy, I think some of his qualities will carry over to the NHL. A lot depends on the coach. What will be his tasks on the ice, and how long it will take for him to adjust to North American sized surface? Obviously, we are unlikely to see him play the same game he was allowed to in KHL, but I'm confident that one thing he will carry over will be his ability to be one of the best power play guys in the league."
It's not a secret that I've been on board with the Antipin signing since it was first reported. It all comes down to this -- it's a low-risk, high reward move for a team that desperately needs help on the blue line.
If the move doesn't work out it shouldn't hurt the Sabres long term, so who cares? With the crop of unrestricted free agents available on July 1 and the upcoming NHL draft class, the Sabres and new GM Jason Botterill needed to get a bit creative and taking a shot on Antipin makes a ton of sense. Temper your expectations because Antipin won't fix the Sabres defense, but his addition is the start of a remodel that's shaping before our eyes.
Dylan Larkin and Viktor Antipin named MVP's of the game. pic.twitter.com/L8koXKToo9
— Aivis Kalni?š (@A_Kalnins) May 16, 2017