From a late round draft pick in 1998 to the top pairing on the Canadiens defence, Andrei Markov has come a long way with his game. Born in Voskresensk, Russia, the now 6’0 203 pound defender is arguably the best Montreal blueliner and is widely considered to have a long and prosperous career ahead of him.
Originally a forward, Markov moved to defence back in his homeland in 1996/97. Though not the prototypical NHL defender in terms of size, his smart play earned him quick praise as he took up this new position. Indeed, in 1998/99 and 1999/00 he was named the Russian Super League best defender while playing with the Moscow Dynamo, the team he moved to from his home squad in Voskresensk. He was also the top scoring defender totally 11 goals and 23 points in 29 games in 99/00.
Finally making the jump to
At least on the ice, the first season in
He followed up with a sophomore season that again had him spending most of his time in
2002/03 saw Markov post career bests in all categories where his 13 goals and 37 points was actually dwarfed by his astounding +13 on a Montreal club that was known for poor defensive ability. It was during this season that Markov went from being a reliable blueliner to the team’s number one defender, gradually taking over top minutes on the blueline by the end of the season.
This year has started out somewhat slowly for Markov because of a pairing with a struggling teammate caused his confidence to slide, and it’s only been in the last few games that we’ve seen Markov start to play as he should.
His game itself is an intelligent game rather than a more physical style. When he uses his body, it’s to angle out or contain an opponent. He’s particularly effective at tying up the stick when a player is in good scoring position, thereby neutralizing the presence. His hand-eye coordination is one of the best in hockey and it’s very evident in one-on-one battles and in scrums. Very often, Markov is able to pluck the puck out of a forest of skates and bodies and turn it up the ice with a deft pass to launch a counter-attack.
However, his best defensive ability is one that hasn’t been seen in
Of course he’s best known for his skills on the puck: stickhandling, passing and shooting are all well above average for NHL defenders. It’s hoped that in the next year or two he develops the experience to take over the quarter-backing duties of the Hab power play. Indeed, it’s his passing ability that really sets him apart from most other defenders on the offensive side of the puck.
If there’s one side of his game that really needs work, it’s the mental aspect as he’s prone to losing confidence and being less than consistent as a result. If he can find that mental stability during hard times, then together with experience he could one day become a legitimate number one defender in the NHL – something the Canadiens have lacked for a very long time.
At the very least, Hab fans can rest assured that they’ve got a superior talent on the blueline for years to come. In