Viktor Antipin has already announced he’s coming to Buffalo. Jason Botterill couldn’t say that was true, but the general manager’s smile sure did.
“I can’t officially say anything in that regards just yet, but I think I’m excited about the possibility,” Botterill said Tuesday on the Sabres’ simulcast show, “The Instigators.”
Antipin told Russia’s Sport-Express over the weekend that he’ll join the Sabres on Monday. The 24-year-old defenseman should compete for a top-four role.
“He’s a type of player that this organization needs to find a way to bring more in,” Botterill said. “We’ve got to improve our defense around here. We’ve got to improve the puck-moving ability of it, and I think it was a great job by Tim Murray and his staff to look at these different things, look at whether it’s a Casey Nelson a couple years ago from college free agency, the staff looking over to Europe for different options.”
Antipin played for Russia in this month's world championships, recording four assists and plus-5 rating in 10 games. While playing for Metallurg Magnitogorsk the past five years, he has won two championships in the Kontinental Hockey League.
The Sabres are scheduled to enter 2017-18 with a defense corps of Rasmus Ristolainen, Zach Bogosian, Jake McCabe, Josh Gorges, Justin Falk and Antipin. Brendan Guhle and Nelson are the only prospects pushing for playing time in Buffalo. Since the free agent market lacks few surefire winners, finding gems in Russia and elsewhere is key.
“Who knows if it’s going to hit big, but you have to find different ways to improve your team,” Botterill said. “That’s what it is.”