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Belanger Provides Depth at Center

by Dave Vest / Arizona Coyotes
GLENDALE – The Coyotes signed free-agent center Eric Belanger to a one-year contract on Tuesday, but General Manager Don Maloney has had his eye on the 32-year-old since July 1.


“Early in free agency, Eric was one of the first players we attempted to sign to replace Matt Lombardi,” Maloney told phoenixcoyotes.com. “At the time, his cost was more than we had available. Similar to the Lee Stempniak situation, the market changed and we were fortunate to sign him to a terrific 'value' contract.”

Eric Belanger. Photo by Getty Images.
The Coyotes open their 2010-11 training camp this weekend. Asked to explain where Belanger fits on the depth chart, Maloney said: “Eric is a quality two-way center who we see replacing Lombardi. Along with Martin Hanzal and Vern Fiddler, Eric gives us additional depth at a position we were concerned about.”

Belanger has played 634 NHL games for five teams, including 323 games for the Los Angeles Kings. Coyotes Head Coach Dave Tippett was an assistant coach in LA early in Belanger’s career.

"That was one of the key parts in my decision (to sign with Phoenix)," Belanger said. "I've spoken to many guys that have had Dave Tippett in Dallas ... and a bunch of guys in Phoenix. They can't say enough about him. That goes a long way."

►Click here to listen to an exclusive interview with Belanger.

Belanger has many skills the Coyotes can utilize.

“Eric is a quick, hungry player,” Maloney said. “He is very strong in the face-off circle, and he’s a top penalty killer who will help offset the loss of Dan Winnik. In addition, he scored 41 points last season playing a little more than 15 minutes per game. With additional offensive opportunities, I believe he can increase his productions.”

Belanger notched a career-high 41 points with Minnesota (35 in 60 games) and Washington (six in 17 games) in 2009-10.

"Last season was a great season for me in Minnesota," said Belanger, who was traded from the Wild to the Capitals in March. "I played a lot of quality minutes on the second line and on the power play and PK time... When I've been put in those situations I've produced, and it was just a confidence booster for me."

With Belanger now in the mix, some young prospects – Kyle Turris, Mikkel Boedker, Viktor Tikhonov, etc. – will have to work even harder in training camp to earn a roster spot.

“We still have room for young players on our roster,” Maloney said. “Kyle Turris and all our other young players will have every opportunity to make our roster. If a young player(s) outcompetes a veteran and earns a place on our roster, we will find a way to keep them with us. To win in the playoffs, you need depth at all positions. This signing today makes us much stronger.”

► Reach Dave Vest at thedesertdogblog@phoenixcoyotes.com and follow him on twitter @davest4yotes.
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