It took awhile for the Montreal’s 84th overall selection in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft to make his debut for the Canadiens, but he has arrived and he’s making a name for himself.
After spending 7 seasons in the Russian Superleague, which was absorbed by the KHL, he joined the Canadiens this past season as 25 year old rookie.
Alexei Emelin played 67 games this year for the Canadiens scoring 3 goals and assisting on 4 others. He had the worst +/- on the team at -18 while putting up 30 PIMS. The +/- is troublesome but then again, nearly two thirds of the team had a minus rating during this lacklustre season. This also a young man who has played his entire career in Russia, adapting to the North American game wasn’t going to happen overnight. There is room for improvement and based on the progression he made during the season coupled with his performance at the World Championships, it looks like it’ll only get better.
I admit it was a rough start to his North American career but give him credit that he didn’t jump ship back to the comfort of the KHL. That shows a willingness to try and get better, to improve as a player, and he did. He possesses an excellent first pass, we all know he can knock you into the parking lot, he’s shown smart hockey sense and he has displayed some offensive upside in Russia and at these past World Championships.
Habs fans are hoping that the World Championships will be his coming out party. Before jumping the gun, Russia did send a stacked team that steam rolled through the tournament. He did however show that he deserved to be a go to guy on the back end of that team, putting up 2 goals and 2 assists in 9 games while posting a very strong +12. This shows strong strides towards being a complete defenseman and not one that will simply knock you into oblivion.
He finished the season tied for 14th in the NHL with 236 hits. Only Martin Hanzal of the Phoenix Coyotes had more hits in less games played than Emelin did. While the quantity of hits is excellent, it’s also the way he delivers his punishment that makes him the type of player the opposition takes note of when they’re on the ice. Some of his hits belong in Don Cherry’s early Rock Em’ Sock Em’ VHS videos, plain and simple.
Emelin’s hip check on Kris Versteeg was masterful while his punishing hip check on Martin St-Louis was not as spectacular but he managed an open ice hit on one of the game’s fastest players. I haven’t seen too many players able to line up and punish St-Louis like that. Granted St-Louis may not have the legs he used to but he can still fly.
He absolutely tattooed David Krejci in the corner during the season and smashed Milan Lucic hard behind the net. Not to mention sending Shawn Thornton into a savage rage after hitting him hard twice in the same shift along the boards. He erased Joe Pavelski as he tried to gain the Habs zone in a clean open ice hit. The list of big hits goes on.
Not since a pre-Milan Lucic thumping of Mike Komisarek did the Canadiens have such a forceful and lethal presence patrolling the blue line. Players are aware of him when he’s out there and they know he hits clean and he hits hard.
This is another characteristic of him that I like; he does it because it’s business. The look of confusion on his face after the guy he just levelled is coming after him in anger is absolutely priceless. There’s no (visible) mean streak that I can see in him, no paybacks or vengeance, he takes them as well as he gives them. He’s just doing his job.
At the moment, Emelin is a restricted free agent. He made just under $1 million last year and I would have to expect that he gets somewhat of a raise when he is re-signed. I won’t speculate on salary and term for his next contract because Carey Price and P.K. Subban are the priorities this summer and I imagine roster players will not be signed until they sign at least one of those two. I certainly hope he is offered a few more years at a reasonable price because it is nice to have that kind guy on your team.
Maybe management could put in a hit bonus in the next contract and really let Alexei Level em’ (I read it somewhere, I can’t take credit) have just a little bit more incentive to handout his hardnosed punishment.