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Semin finding a new comfort level in Carolina

by Kurt Dusterberg /

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Maybe the Carolina Hurricanes are the right team at the right time for Alexander Semin.

For all the question marks and finger pointing that came from Semin's departure from Washington, he has quieted his critics since his arrival in Raleigh.

For the third time is his eight-year NHL career, the Russian sniper is playing at a point-per-game pace. The easy - and accurate - explanation is that Semin has meshed well with Hurricanes captain Eric Staal.

"His size and reach and strength are things that I'm good at as well," Staal said. "I think me being a left shot playing center, taking the puck up the middle of the ice, then making forehand passes - not backhand passes to his side - I think that's a difference. We've started to grow comfortable with each other."

After seven seasons in Washington, it was clear that comfort was in short supply. His points-per-game total had dipped each of the past three seasons, and some unflattering adjectives were creeping up in front of his name. Those factors didn't deter the Hurricanes, who desperately needed an elite offensive player to skate with Staal. So Carolina took a calculated risk with a one-year, $7-million free-agent deal.

So far, the results on the scoresheet match the reviews he's earning in the locker room.

"Alex is a quiet guy," defenseman Jay Harrison said. "But he's a great element in our room. He's very involved, he's close to a lot of guys."

Finding that right fit for Semin started in the summer. Semin's agent, Todd Diamond, also represents Hurricanes forward Jussi Jokinen.

"When we were speaking with [Hurricanes general manager] Jim Rutherford about Alex, we were able to relate Jussi’s feelings about Carolina, that it’s a great place to live and play," Diamond said. "The organization is top-notch and the locker room has a very good atmosphere. That certainly made things slightly easier on Alex. Now that he’s gotten to see it first-hand, he knows that it was good information."

From the start, the Hurricanes projected Semin as a fit with Staal, whose linemate total reached double digits last season. As the captain, Staal made sure to look out for the soft-spoken Russian.

"I did the same thing a lot of the other guys did, just making sure he was comfortable off the ice -- where to drive to, where to eat, what to do," Staal said. "Call me or text me and let me know what you need. The arena and the dressing area is a player's comfort area. Anything outside of that is a little more of an adjustment."

Along with Jiri Tlusty, the three form one of the most productive lines in the NHL. While Semin's 27 points in 25 games is a welcome addition to the Hurricanes lineup, the way he is putting up numbers is unexpected. Just seven of those points came on goals, a dramatic shift for a guy who has scored better than 34 on three occasions.

"Semin's really been the playmaker of the line, which has been a bit of a surprise," Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller said. "Guys like that tend to adapt to the players they're playing with. Eric's a straight-forward, drive-to-the-net guy, and Alex is a smart player. Tlusty is a mix of a playmaker and a scorer, so Alex plays off of Eric and becomes more of a playmaker, instead of thinking shot first."

It is no overstatement to say Semin has been the key component that Carolina has lacked in recent years. His offensive production bolsters the rest of the lineup - not just his own line.

"He has the ability to get you the puck when you might not think it can get to you," Harrison said. "I've had that happen a couple times this year. When you're out there with him, you have the awareness that offense can develop in the blink of an eye.

"He fills a big hole in our lineup. He's filled it so well. I hope he feels as comfortable as he looks anyway."

Whether Semin calls Carolina home for the long term is a matter for another day.

"It will be considered, but not with the season coming fast and furious," Diamond said. "He’s enjoying playing hockey right now and that’s the most important thing – and the team is winning. So everything will take care of itself at the proper time. We’re not focused on that at all right now."

The Hurricanes can live with that. If Semin helps them into the playoffs, both sides will be very comfortable.

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