There was a bit of a surprise in the Expansion Draft as the Golden Knights opted to not select prospect Charles Hudon from Montreal. Instead, the player heading to Vegas is defenceman Alexei Emelin.
Emelin had been one of the longest-serving members of the Canadiens having part of the organization since they drafted him back in the 3rd round back in 2004. It took a long time for him to make it across the pond from Russia though as he didn’t make his NHL debut until the 2011-12 season at the age of 25.
While the offensive promise he showed in his final season at home never materialized into the NHL, Emelin has carved out a niche for himself as one of the top hitters in the league while playing largely in a fourth or fifth defenceman role.
2016-17 was a tale of two seasons for the 31 year old. He quickly got the nod to move onto the top pairing with Shea Weber and for a while he held his own despite it being a very non-traditional pair. However, that changed as the months progressed and the struggles really got to him. He was quickly moved to the second pairing, then to the third and things didn’t really improve. A late injury cost Emelin most of the postseason although he managed a goal in the two games he played.
While his performance was cause for consternation, his contract didn’t help either. Early in the 2013-14 season, he inked a four year extension with a $4.1 million cap hit with the hope that he’d turn into a consistent second pairing player. While Emelin could handle that role at times, he also struggled at others and not just in 2016-17. Accordingly, the contract was viewed by some as somewhat of an albatross although it must not be viewed similarly in Vegas (or wherever he gets moved to if this is a draft-and-deal situation).
For Montreal, while this frees up a big chunk of cap space, it also opens up another hole on Montreal’s blueline on the left hand side. Emelin joins Nathan Beaulieu and Mikhail Sergachev (who some thought would push for more of a regular role) as confirmed departures while reports have surfaced that suggest Nikita Nesterov won’t be qualified either. There’s also Andrei Markov’s situation as he is in need of a new contract as well.
As things currently stand, Montreal has just five defenders under contract for 2017-18 – Shea Weber, Jeff Petry, Jordie Benn, Brandon Davidson, and offseason signing Jakub Jerabek. The first three will likely comprise the right side but clearly there will be work that needs to be done to shore up the left side regardless of whether or not Markov returns. It has already been a busy offseason for GM Marc Bergevin and it’s only going to get busier in the coming days.