At the start of the season, Denis Grebeshkov had problems finding a spot in the Edmonton Oilers lineup.
By the end of it, he was one of the team's best defencemen.
Yesterday the Oilers re-signed the native of Yaroslavl, Russia, to a one-year contract believed to be in the neighbourhood of $1.5-million, although financial terms were not disclosed.
"I think Denis wanted to do a one-year deal and see how it goes," said Oilers vice-president of hockey operations Kevin Prendergast, who is currently in Kazan, Russia scouting the Under-18 world hockey championship.
"If he has a good year again next year, we can probably extend it from there. But it came from his end as far as the one year."
Grebeshkov, 24, finished the season with three goals and 15 assists in 71 games. The Oilers obtained him from the New York Islanders in February 2007 in exchange for defenceman Marc-Andre Bergeron.
Grebeshkov is currently with the Russian national team, preparing for the upcoming world championships. He was unavailable for comment.
"You have to give him a lot of credit," Prendergast said. "People got on him early and he made some mistakes. They certainly weren't bad mistakes. They were giveaways or whatever, pucks jumping off his stick. But he had a lot of confidence in himself and his ability to play and the coaches kept putting him out there and he just kept getting better and better."
Grebeshkov finished the season as one of five Oilers with a plus rating (+2) and averaged nearly 17 minutes of ice time per game.
He was originally the first pick of the Los Angeles Kings - 18th overall - in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft. He played two-and-a-half years in the Kings system before being traded to the Islanders in 2006.
He spent the 2006-2007 season in Russia, scoring eight goals and adding nine assists in 47 games.
Grebeshkov is the third restricted free agent the Oilers have re-signed in the last week, having earlier locked up defenceman Tom Gilbert for six years and winger Robert Nilsson for the next three seasons.
"Any time you can knock these guys off like we've done in the last week, it's good for the organization," said Prendergast. "It gives us more time to concentrate on other things."
With Grebeshkov signed, the Oilers can now turn their attention to RFAs Joni Pitkanen, Jarret Stoll, Marc Pouliot and Zack Stortini.
"We consider the three guys we've signed to be a big part of our team next year," Prendergast said. "It's a big burden off our hands, and it gives us an opportunity to concentrate on Joni and some of the other guys and now we have a lot of time to get it done."