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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 North America to pursue his dream of playing in the NHL, his first obstacle would be the cultural change and his lack of English language knowledge. In fact, the language issue would continue to be a problem for the first two years of his North American life largely because Markov was a very shy individual and therefore didn’t take his English classes.


At least on the ice, the first season in Montreal and the transition from Russia to the NHL game would have to be considered a success, despite the language issues. In 63 games in Montreal (he also played 14 games with Quebec, the AHL squad for the Habs) he posted six goals and 23 points, which for a rookie defender in the NHL is quite impressive. The key to his game was a solid first pass and good, if not great, ability in his own end.


He followed up with a sophomore season that again had him spending most of his time in Montreal with a handful of games in Quebec. While he posted satisfying numbers once again at the NHL level, it was his play in the playoffs in Montreal‘s spirited run against the Bruins and Hurricanes which saw his game move to the next level. He was relied on more and more during the playoff run in critical situations and his confidence rose steadily.


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 Montreal in well over a decade: his ability to break up a play before it develops. Rather than backing into the zone as most regular defenders do, if Markov sees an opportunity he steps forward with a positive stick check and more often than not completely stops the play in the neutral zone. It’s this proactive, rather than reactive game which is most pleasing to see.


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 Montreal, that’s saying something; particularly on a team that has struggled defensively for much too long.


Go to Andrei Markov’s HabsWorld page