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Should the Rangers be looking at Alexander Yelesin?

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The physical defenseman will become a free agent

2015 IIHF World Junior Championship - Quarterfinal - United States v Russia Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Reports have surfaced that Russian defenseman Alexander Yelesin, 23, will not re-sign with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl — his hometown team — and is looking to pursue a career in the NHL.

So, what makes Yelesin so special? First and foremost, he’s a physical, right-handed defenseman coming off of a career-best 10-point season. Now, 10 points in 55 regular season games may not jump off the page — and zero points in 10 postseason games for Lokomotiv definitely doesn’t jump off the page — but there’s more to Yelesin than goals and assists. He’s a punishing player in his own zone who doesn’t shy away from taking the body.

Yelesin registered 188 hits this year. He led both his team and the KHL in hits by a significant margin. The second-highest hit total in the league belonged to teammate Nikita Cherepanov who finished the year with 128 hits. If that frequency of body contact on an international ice surface wasn’t eye-catching enough for NHL scouts and general managers, Yelesin also clocked a 102 mph slap shot at the KHL All-Star game on Jan. 19, 2019.

Oh, and there’s definitely some serious sandpaper to his game. Yelesin drew five penalties and earned 47 penalty minutes of his own — 25 of which were picked up in a single game against Vityaz, where he was given a five minute major for boarding and a 20-minute game misconduct.

There’s a good chance that Yelesin was not given serious consideration when he was eligible for the NHL draft due to his below-average frame. Now that he has 128 games of KHL regular season hockey behind him, there are some who think he could be a nice depth addition to an NHL blue line.

There’s some smoke out there that the Arizona Coyotes, Dallas Stars, and New York Islanders having interest. Igor Eronko also believes that Kyle Dubas, general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs, took a look at Yelesin back in January, or that he at least had cause to notice him while checking in on Leafs’ prospect Yegor Korshkov (31st overall, 2016 Draft).

The Rangers should be considered a contender to sign Yelesin to an ELC due to the team’s low number of contracts and the pressing need to improve the blue line in both the NHL and AHL. Yelesin averaged 17:30 TOI/GP this year with Lokomotiv and finished the season with 87 shots, four goals, and six assists. If nothing else, he’s worth a look.

It should be noted that Gorton signed KHL defenseman Alexei Bereglazov to a two-year ELC (with a European Assignment Clause) on April 21, 2017, but that contract was terminated less than a year later. Gorton also signed two free agents — Michael Lindqvist and Ville Meskanen — from pro European leagues at the tail end of last season to bolster the Rangers’ depth. Lindqvist’s contract was terminated early in the season and Meskanen has been a staple in the Wolf Pack’s lineup.

Data courtesy of en.khl.ru, salary and contract information courtesy of capfriendly.com.