MONTREAL – Canadiens fans couldn’t wait to see the kind of impact Alexei Emelin would have in Montreal. His opponents weren’t quite as enthusiastic.
Drafted by the Canadiens in 2004, Emelin finally made the jump to the NHL last summer. He may have had to change a few things to adapt to the North American game after spending the past four seasons with the Ak-Bars Kazan in the KHL, but the one thing the 26-year-old made sure to bring with him from Russia was his trademark hipcheck.
After spending training camp working on making the difficult transition to a new country, different timing and a new language, Emelin found himself sidelined for eight of his team’s 16 first games of the season. That’s why as soon as he made his way back into the lineup, he made sure to leave a lasting impression. Consistently throwing five, seven and even nine crushing body checks a night, the Russian wrecking ball was bent on destruction.
Habs fans – and the Twitterverse – took notice and a new nickname was born: Boom.
Emelin had found his niche and continued to lay out any opposing forward brave enough to cross into the Canadiens’ zone. The Togliatti native threw at least one hit in 64 of the 67 games he played this year, a pace that easily helped him break Luke Schenn’s 2008-09 record of 206 hits by a rookie blue-liner with 236.
Among all NHL defensemen this season, only the Kings’ Matt Greene (241), the Penguins’ Brooks Orpik (259) and Schenn (270) threw more hits than Emelin.
It didn’t take long for Emelin to earn his coaches’ confidence in his rookie season and it wasn’t just his unique talent of plastering his opponents into the boards they were noticing.
Limited to just 15:26 in his first two months on the job, the bruising blue-liner saw his ice time jump to an average of 17:55 in the final four months of the season, cracking the 20-minute mark 10 times in that span.
Finally acclimated to his new NHL home, Emelin is already looking forward to a full 2012-13 season of laying the smackdown like only he can.
Alexandre Harvey is a writer for canadiens.com. Translated by Shauna Denis.
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