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|Ilya Lyubushkin’s physicality helping the Arizona Coyotes blueline.
17 ÿíâàðÿ 2019 ãîäà. howlinhockey.com. By James Reeve
The Arizona Coyotes find themselves just four points outside of a playoff spot and defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin has been one of the team’s unsung heroes so far this season.
The 24-year-old Russian blueliner joined the Arizona Coyotes as an undrafted rookie this past summer, having spent the majority of his career playing in his homeland.
Joining the team after making 257 regular appearances in the KHL with Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, plus a further 53 playoff appearances, Lyubushkin has played predominantly a third-pairing role.
He has averaged 14:04 on the ice this season, holding a 48.7% Corsi rating while starting in the offensive zone 52.8% of the time – not stellar possession numbers, but by no means terrible.
The 6-foot-2, 201lbs right-hander has caught the attention of some, however, for his physical style of play – putting his body on the line night-in, night-out for the Coyotes.
In just 27 regular season appearances so far in his rookie season, Lyubushkin has blocked 32 shots (more than one per game) and has thrown an astonishing 102 hits – averaging around 3.78 per game.
In the team’s 6-3 victory over the San Jose Sharks, Lyubushkin contributed a whopping eight hits and blocked a further three shots on route to victory over the Coyotes’ Pacific Division rivals.
Having a big-bodied defenceman crushing opponents with his sheer strength and size is an added bonus for a team that prides itself on a decent defensive corps.
Lyubushkin’s 102 hits see him sit 45th in the league, but very few players have played as fewer games as the Russian.
Alexander Petrovic (31 games) and Mark Borowiecki (30 games) are the only players that have played a similar number of games to Lyubushkin, but the Coyotes blueliner is still only a handful of hits away from passing both of them.
The league leader in hits is Vegas Gold Knights forward William Carrier, who has 219 so far in 44 regular season games. If Lyubushkin kept his current pace, he would still be over 50 hits behind Carrier in the same number of games.
However, his physicality is something that allows the team to try and play a fast, aggressive style of hockey that is difficult to achieve if the team isn’t given the space to move.
Lyubushkin isn’t a star player for the Arizona Coyotes, but he is doing his job and doing it well, with very little more that could be asked of the NHL rookie.
Having a physical presence in defence can cause opponents big problems, and with the injuries the team has suffered this season, it is highly likely that the Russian will continue to be a prominent feature on the bottom pairing.
The former World Junior bronze medallist is a restricted free agent after the season, costing the team just $925,000 due to playing on an entry-level deal.
With how well he has played so far this season, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the organisation tie him down to a longer deal before the season is over.