While the Canadiens recordbooks are filled with storied names such as Doug Harvey, Larry Robinson, Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard, Chris Chelios and now, P.K. Subban, the most quietly efficient offensive contributor of them all may very well be Andrei Markov, once an unheralded prospect from Russia drafted as an afterthought more than 15 years ago.
Two All-Star game appearances, 64 points in 78 games (in 2008-09), 49 career powerplay goals, Andrei Markov has been a go-to player for the Habs ever since he made his NHL debut in 2000. With that in mind, it may come as a shock to most that Markov was passed over 161 times at the 1998 NHL Entry Draft before the Montreal finally selected him with their sixth-round pick.
First four defensemen drafted in 1998:
Brad Stuart (3rd overall), Bryan Allen (4th), Vitaly Vishnevski (5th) Martin Skoula (17th),
At the start of the 2013-14 NHL season, only five defensemen in the Class of 1998 has played more matches than Markov (Robyn Regher leads with 943 GP), and none has more points than the Russian (former Hab Jaroslav Spacek is second with 355 PTS, 44 behind). Ten defensemen were picked in the first round that year, and Markov has proved to be more effective at the NHL level than all of them.
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At 0.59 points per game (416 PTS in 709 GP as of November 2013), Markov’s offensive statistics compares favorably with almost every single Russian defenseman to ever play in the NHL. In this category, he is only surpassed by Sergei Zubov (771 PTS in 1068 GP, 0.72 PPG) and Sergei Gonchar (776 PTS in 1188 GP, 0.65 PPG). Zubov had the good fortune of playing on a powerhouse Dallas team in the last 1990s and early 2000s; Gonchar racked up an impressive number of powerplay assists, playing on the same unit as Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh.
In 13 seasons as a Hab, Markov has racked up, on average, one penalty minute every other game. One of only four Russians to line up on the Habs’ blueline, Markov is certainly the group’s most finesse-oriented player.
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Picking his spots
While Markov has been the Habs’ go-to defenseman in all situations for the past decade, his success in the NHL cannot be solely measured by the physical skills he brings to the table. Standing exactly six foot tall and weighing a shade over 200 pounds, Markov does not possess the strength or reach of bigger players such as Zdeno Chara or Shea Weber. However, he makes up for that disadvantage with superior accuracy.
When looking at defensemen who have amassed at least 1000 shots on net between the 2001-02 and 2012-13 seasons, Markov out-rank every single active defenseman in the NHL in terms of shot percentage (8.0% out of 1064 shots) minus two: Mike Green (9.1%) and Lubomir Visnovsky (8.6%). Both are elite NHL powerplay quarterbacks and former All-Stars.
In Habs history, only Larry Robinson has a comparable career success rate when it comes to putting the puck in the net. When measuring the season shooting percentages of Canadiens defensemen who have scored at least ten goals in a given campaign (as to eliminate statistical aberrations), one can see that Hall-of-Famer Robinson and Markov share six out of the top ten slots. While Markov has missed most of the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons with a knee injury, last year his shooting percentage was a career-best 12.7%, comparable to his previous highs of 11.0% (2007-08) and 11.4% (2005-06).
Historically, Markov has been more effective when playing the left point on the powerplay and paired with a point partner who has a good slapshot from the right side of the ice (Sheldon Souray, Mark Streit and now P.K. Subban – all three have had career years playing alongside Markov). This arrangement allows the Russian to get the puck off the board and either pass off to his partner, or step in and take a shot himself.
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By taking to the ice against the Nashville Predators on October 19th, 2013, Andrei Markov moved past Jacques Laperriere to become the tenth-ranked defenseman in franchise history for the number of regular season games played (692 and counting).
This is not too surprising, considering that the Russian rearguard is the longest-serving current Habs player and has been the franchise’s mainstay for almost 14 years. Essentially, while the names of fellow All-Stars such as Nicklas Lidstrom and Scott Niedermeyer tend to dominate the conversation when trying to pick out the best offensive defenseman of the 21st century (so far), the numbers show that Andrei Markov deserves to at least be part of the conversation.
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Jack Han is a writer for canadiens.com.