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Therrien sees Semin as 'nice challenge' for Canadiens

by Arpon Basu

TERREBONNE, Quebec -- When the Montreal Canadiens signed free agent forward Alexander Semin to a one-year contract last month, one of the first questions that jumped to mind was how would he mesh with coach Michel Therrien.

The Carolina Hurricanes bought out the final three years of Semin's five-year, $35 million contract because, as general manager Ron Francis said, they did not feel he competed enough on a consistent basis.

Therrien is known as a coach with high demands on his players in terms of work ethic, and he said Tuesday at his charity golf tournament he's eager to start working on making sure Semin is able to meet those demands.

"It's a nice challenge, that's how I look at it," Therrien said. "He's a guy that's full of potential, and there's an opportunity for him to get back to where we think he can be as a player, and where I imagine he also thinks he can be as a player. We're going to give him an opportunity, and it's the type of player we were missing when you looked at our team. He's a guy who can score, who can make plays and who's shown in the past that he can contribute to the success of a team offensively. But as far as I'm concerned, I see it as a challenge."

Semin, 31, arrives in Montreal with a track record of offensive production. In his final six seasons with the Washington Capitals, from 2006-07 to 2011-12, Semin scored 187 goals in 417 games, the ninth-highest goals-per-game average in the NHL over that span, according to

After leaving the Capitals as a free agent, Semin signed a one-year contract with the Hurricanes and had 44 points in 44 games in 2012-13, earning him the contract that was bought out July 1. That's when things went sour in Carolina, with Semin's production dropping to 42 points in 65 games in 2013-14 and 19 points in 57 games last season.

Therrien said the Canadiens are counting on the fact Semin will have a bit of a chip on his shoulder to show his past two seasons were an anomaly and not a sign of a player in decline.

"Hockey players have pride and they want to make sure they put themselves in a position to perform," Therrien said. "I'm convinced he'll show up to training camp in good shape and wanting to prove to the entire NHL that he's able to be the player he was in the past."

Drawing on that pride to motivate the player is a job that falls largely on Therrien, and he's committed to being open with Semin on what is expected of him. But Therrien said he feels the culture in the Canadiens dressing room will be an important asset in his job as coach to coax the best out of Semin.

"These days it's not like the old days that it's my way or the highway, it doesn't work like that," Therrien said. "You need to try to first of all build a relationship with players, communicate a lot. I truly believe in those things, in teaching [them] the way you want them to play, the way you want them to compete. And our young leaders are really buying into that. This is a group that competes a lot and they work hard. I've got a lot of respect for my players."

Semin is not the only new Canadiens player with a history of inconsistency. General manager Marc Bergevin traded one of Therrien's favorite players, forward Brandon Prust, to acquire forward Zack Kassian from the Vancouver Canucks, a player who never found a permanent role in Vancouver and was often criticized for his work ethic but who undoubtedly has a lot of offensive potential.

"Zack is a player who was loved by his teammates," Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows said. "He likes having fun, but he likes working hard. On the ice, he has enormous potential. He has great hands, he sees the game well for a big guy, he skates extremely well, had a good shot, he's physical and he's an excellent fighter as a lefty. I think the Canadiens made a very nice acquisition and we're going to miss him."

Burrows admitted Kassian's consistency in his work ethic was an issue in Vancouver, but that he has the potential to be a 20-goal scorer in the NHL if he ever brings all his tools together. Therrien said Kassian might benefit from the environment in Montreal to reach that full potential.

"This is a group that wants to win," Therrien said. "They compete hard, and a guy that's coming in like Semin, a guy like Kassian, I believe they're going to appreciate the way we do things and being a part of that group."

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