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Photo Credit: Candice Ward-USA TODAY Sports

Flames sign Russian free agent Alexander Yelesin

As has been rumoured for weeks, the Calgary Flames have signed Russian free agent defenseman Alexander Yelesin. The signing was originally reported by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, and is now confirmed by TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

While terms of the deal aren’t immediately available, the 23-year Yelesin has signed a two-year entry level deal that will run through the 2020-21 season. Per Friedman, Arizona, Montreal and Ottawa were also in pursuit.

Originally from Yaroslavl, Russia, Yelesin is a 5’11”, 190 pound right shot blueliner who’s spent the past three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League – he’s played primarily for his hometown Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, but also for Amur Khabarovsk. In 109 KHL games he has eight goals and 19 points.

Our friends at Blueshirt Banter outlined why NHL teams were so interested in Yelesin earlier in the spring:

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.

From a stylistic standpoint, you can wrap your head around why the Flames would want him: he’s inexpensive depth in a position of need (right shot defense) that plays a physical style that few others in the system bring.

From Yelesin’s perspective – much like fellow KHL signing Artyom Zagidulin – the young Russian is likely looking at the rather lean defensive depth at the AHL level and figuring that he can outshine everyone in Stockton and get himself on the fast track to an NHL gig before too long.