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It’s no secret that Artem Zub is probably the most loved Senators player by all NHL fans. Since coming over from Russia, he has quietly been the most steady defensive defenceman on the Sens roster. While most Sens fans know how effective Zub is, most of the NHL doesn’t seem to recognize it to the same degree. In this article, I will explain why Zub is in the top tier of defensive defenceman league-wide.
How Zub Ended Up In Ottawa
One of Pierre Dorion and the Ottawa Senators management’s weaknesses is their pro-scouting. Several questionable acquisitions have been made over the duration of the rebuild ahem Matt Murray. But credit needs to be given where it is due, Artem Zub was a steal.
The Senators acquired Zub via free agency in the summer of 2020. Up to this point, Zub had spent his career in the KHL with both Khabarovsk Amur and SKA St. Petersburg. In the KHL, Zub had established himself as one of the league’s best defenders posting a +35 in his final year, which was the best league-wide.
After his 1-year entry-level contract finished, the Sens would sign Zub to a 2 year $5 million contract. Going into this season, Zub’s new 4 year $18.4 million contract will begin.
Artem Zub’s Advanced Analytics
The inspiration for making this article came after doing some research on Artem Zub’s advanced analytics. Needless to say, Zub’s numbers are astonishing on the defensive end. His offence leaves a lot to be desired, but that’s not what the Ottawa Senators need from him.
This chart from Andy-Rono.com describes Artem Zub’s game to a tee. It shows that while his offensive and transitional game may not be elite, his defensive game is. According to their statistical model, Artem Zub is in the 95th defensive percentile in the NHL. His overall statistics are skewed by his discipline and ability on the penalty kill, but his defensive impact is undeniable. In the top 10 defensive defensemen rankings by Andy and Rono, Artem Zub ranked as the 7th best defensive defenceman in 2022/2023.
This past season was weaker than usual for Artem Zub. The injuries were no help for him, especially a broken jaw which he suffered in December. But, with a full offseason of recovery, I think Zub will find his A-game once again. This JFresh chart shows just how effective Zub was over his first two NHL seasons.
The models between JFresh and Andy & Rono are slightly different, but the obvious correlation is that Artem Zub plays elite-level even-strength defence. This chart is also a 2-year weighted average from 2020-2022 which includes different data than the previous one shown. The numbers don’t lie, when Zub is healthy he is one of the best defensive defencemen in the NHL.
Zub’s Importance To The Blue Line
One of the most anticipated attributes of the Ottawa Senators lineup going into next season is their new and improved top 4. This included Thomas Chabot, Jake Sanderson, Jakob Chychrun, and Artem Zub. The first three defenders mentioned are all dynamic players who will be used to push the play for the Ottawa Senators. But for the team to be successful, not everybody can jump into the rush.
That is where Artem Zub steps in. Whoever Zub is lined up with going into next season will know that they can play a more free-flowing style because they have Zub back to cover for them. If this ends up being Jake Sanderson, he can freely transition the puck upice because he has a rock-solid partner.
But that’s not the only important reason to have Zub in the Sens top 4. While it may be less of a factor, having a balance of right and left-handed shooters on the back end is still beneficial. Sanderson, Chabot, and Chychrun are all left-handed, making Artem Zub the lone righty in the top 4. The next highest right-handed defencemen on the depth chart would be one of JBD or Hamonic who are not top 4 quality defenders.
I am expecting Jake Sanderson and Artem Zub will be the pair Ottawa uses against the opponent’s top-line players. This is yet another reason Zub is a key piece, he and Sanderson will allow Chabot and Chychrun to play against lower-level competition. Hopefully, this will re-kindle Chabot’s high level of offensive play and will allow Chychrun to get back to a Norris level.
Sens fans should be ready to get the “Zuuuuuub” chants going again.
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