MONTREAL – There are some aspects of North American living that are still foreign to Alexei Emelin; hockey isn’t one of them.
After spending the past four seasons throwing his weight around in the KHL, Emelin finally made the jump to Montreal this fall. Communicating in the dressing room is still a challenge for the Togliatti, Russia native, but on the ice, the 25-year-old blue-liner seems to be receiving his coach’s messages loud and clear.
The transition to a new city, new culture, new system and new language hasn’t been an easy for the young rearguard. After seeing his rookie defenseman struggle out of the gate to start the season, Habs head coach Jacques Martin scratched Emelin for seven of the team’s first 13 games. His time in the press box appears to be paying off.
“Alexei played a good game for us tonight,” described Martin of Emelin, who threw a team-high five hits on Monday night. “He’s a physical player and he brings that gritty element to our lineup. He was good tonight but I think it’s still a process. He still needs to adapt and he’ll keep getting better.”
It hasn’t taken Emelin long to make his mark since returning to the lineup, dishing out 16 hits in his last four games alone. With 43 in just 13 games this season, Emelin is second behind only the Senators’ Jared Cowen for hits by a rookie defenseman. But his crushing body checks aren’t the only reason the Russian blue-liner is getting noticed these days.
Earning third star honors for his night’s work against the Bruins, the rugged defenseman is making his case to stay in the lineup when veterans Hal Gill and Jaroslav Spacek return to action. No one has been more impressed by the rookie blue-liner’s progress than Carey Price, who has been enjoying his front row seat for some of Emelin’s highlight-reel hits so far this year.
“He was great tonight. He’s been playing really well for us since he’s been getting a little more ice time,” offered Price, who kicked aside 17 of the 18 Bruins shots he faced. “I’m sure he’s starting to feel a lot more comfortable here. He’s really stepping up.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com.
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