An Edmonton Oilers team that was criticized last season for its lack of depth on defense was bolstered by the offseason signing of Andrew Ference. But there was another veteran defenseman acquired during the summer in the hopes of building depth on the back end.
Anton Belov may have come into camp as an unknown entity, but his improvement during the course of the preseason is earning him praise from Oilers brass. The 27-year-old spent the past five seasons playing with Avangard Omsk of the Kontinental Hockey League before being signed by Edmonton in May.
He may be new to the NHL, but Below isn't playing like a rookie.
"I thought he's gotten better each and every night. He's a quick study," Edmonton coach Dallas Eakins said of Belov prior to the team's game Friday against the Dallas Stars. "The one thing we were a little worried about with him was his [defensive] zone coverage. He was a little hesitant, but he fully gets it now. He's been strong, he moves the puck well. He's adjusting to the smaller rink very quickly. So far so good on his progress."
In his first preseason action, Sept. 22, Belov posted a minus-1 rating in Edmonton's 5-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks, but his three shots on goal led all Oilers defensemen. Two night later in the team's 2-1 defeat of the Winnipeg Jets, Belov assisted on Will Action's game-winning goal and spent much of the night playing alongside Ference. His 22:26 of ice time that night was second on the team behind Ference.
Against the Stars on Friday, Belov will be paired with Justin Schultz, lending further indication that a top-four spot on the team's defense could be his to lose.