On the right side is Alexander Semin
(or Syomin, as it reads on his sweater). Opposite is Alexander Ovechkin. In the middle, Evegni Malkin.
It’s as daunting and as skilled a line that can be found in the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. And to think, Semin almost wasn’t even a part of it.
Now a two-time Olympian, Semin was a curious omission from the Russian roster when it was announced in early January.
“He was good. When you watch that, it’s tough to see him not playing for the Russians,” teammate Riley Nash said after a 3-2 Hurricanes win in mid-January in which Semin scored twice in the third period. “I think he’s one of the best talents in the world. When he plays hard, he’s one of my favorite players to watch, that’s for sure. He’s a real treat to watch, especially on a night like tonight.”
The Russian national team would, three days later, add Semin to its roster.
“Nothing surprises me with what Alex can do. He is a very special talent. It’s just a matter of him being healthy,” Canes President and General Manager Jim Rutheford said. “He missed most of training camp with his wrist [injury], and he’s fought some [other] injuries. But when he’s healthy and going, he’s a special player.”
On a line with Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty – perhaps not as dexterous as the Russian national team line, but still one of the best in the NHL, undoubtedly – Semin has picked up his production of late with the Hurricanes. He ranks fourth on the team in scoring with 29 points, 19 of which have come in his last 21 games. That stretch also includes a five-game point streak and a six-game point streak, which featured six goals in a four-game goal streak.
“Yeah, now that he’s become healthy after the concussion, now he’s picked up his game,” head coach Kirk Muller said. “His points are coming, and the line has been better. That’s what we need. You need your best players to perform, and he’s starting to perform at a better level right now.”
“Before we got him, we knew he was a high-skilled player who could score goals and bring a lot of offense to a team,” Tlusty said. “He’s been working really hard. When he does that, he’s one of the best players out there. He’s a skilled guy with the puck.”
What makes him such a threat is multi-faceted. For one, his shot – whether it’s a quick snapper off the rush or a booming slapshot from the top of the circle – is an absolute howitzer that is near-impossible for many goalies to stop.
“His ability to get shots off, and if it gets off, it’s got a good chance of going in because it’s such a hard shot. He’s one of those guys that can break a game when you need a goal,” Staal said, also crediting Semin’s reach. “He was tough to play against, and it’s a lot better having him on our side.”
Semin is also a big body. At 6-foot-2, 209 pounds, he can be tough to knock off the puck.
“I remember playing against him when he was in Washington. It’s really impossible to take the puck from him,” Tlusty said. “He’s smart, and he’s got a big body, too. He protects the puck well, and he reads the puck well.”
Don’t sleep on his playmaking skills, either.
“I think all offensive guys – guys that are counted on to score goals – are underrated with their passing,” Staal said. “You need to be able to move the puck to open yourself up for shots. He definitely can do that. He likes to draw people to him and make plays. He’s gifted offensively.”
“We wish he’d be shooting more because his shot is something else, but he proved to us last year that he’s not only a goal scorer and he can make a lot of nice plays,” Tlusty said with a smile.
And Tlusty would know, as the receiver of Semin’s highlight-reel, behind-the-back pass that slipped through the defender’s leg and onto Tlusty’s stick for the goal past a sprawling Ondrej Pavelec.
“That was pretty. We were even talking about it with Pavelec a couple nights ago,” Tlusty said, almost a year after it happened. “The things that he does, he’s really good at it.”
Off the ice, the Krasnoyarsk native now has a teammate in Anton Khudobin with whom he can converse in his native tongue – though, by now, Tlusty said the locker room probably knows a bit of Russian.
“He’ll usually yell at us in Russian. I know a few,” Tlusty said, noting there are some similar words in the Czech language. “Everyone can probably swear in Russian now. Sometimes he’ll start yelling and he’s already laughing, and you have no idea what he’s saying.”
“Like anyone, he gets into it, and he uses his native tongue,” Staal said. “He’s been good in the room, and I think he’s opened up a lot here in the last year-and-a-half.”
And how about his English? He doesn’t flex it much with the media, but it’s there.
“He knows his English,” Staal asserted. “He sometimes doesn’t use it as often as he can, but he definitely understands English with no problem. It’s fine that way.”
The Russian team, linemates Ovechkin and Malkin included, is probably glad to have Semin in his home country on the world’s biggest stage for the 29-year-old’s 10th major international tournament. The Canes are happy to have him, as well.
“He’s a tremendous talent. He’s a guy that’s proven to the league that he can contribute offensively on a yearly basis. As of late, he’s been playing real strong for us,” Staal said. “He can be a difference maker, and it’s been fun to play with that type of talent on my line.”
“He’s an easy-going guy,” Tlusty said. “We sit beside each other (in the locker room), so we joke around quite a bit over here. We’re good buddies. It’s been fun.”