Nine games into the 2013 NHL season, that risk is paying dividends in every zone of the ice.
Semin, who was handed a one-year, $7 million contract by GM Jim Rutherford despite harsh assessments from the mainstream media, has developed into a well-rounded team player in Raleigh.
The 28-year-old Russian is putting up solid numbers in the box score—he has two goals and seven points to date—but Semin's true impact has not yet been recorded by statistics alone. Defensively, the oft-criticized winger has made plays at just the right time, saving several sure-fire goals and creating countless counter attacks off of some slick steals.
He's almost single-handedly transformed the Hurricanes' first line, along with Jiri Tlusty and Eric Staal, into one of the league's most dangerous units—and improved Carolina's play in their own end, as well.
Perhaps the change of scenery is the cause of Semin's resurgence.
But perhaps it's not.
Perhaps these skills were there all along. Perhaps all he needed was a little more motivation, a little more team play and a little better coaching.
Perhaps this is just the new Alexander Semin.
Semin the Shooter
Semin's first goal as a Hurricane, seen above, is the speedy sniper's only top highlight of the year so far—but that's bound to change eventually.
Before eventually scoring on an unimpressive five-hole wrister Thursday night in Ottawa (see right), Semin hit the post twice, increasing his season off-the-metal total to 11.
That's right. 11 shots off the post. Had all of those rockets bounced the other direction, Semin wouldn't only be leading the league with a whopping 13 goals, he'd also be on pace for a 69-goal campaign in a mere 48-game season.
Unrealistic, but tantalizing.
The Krasnojarsk native has set up chances off rebounds left and right, as well.
He's tied for 16th in the league with 36 shots this season and opposing goaltenders have had a tough time handling quite a few of them. The Hurricanes' first home goal of the year, for example, came during a goal-crease scramble following a Semin one-timer (see right).
His 5.6 shooting percentage is bound to migrate back to towards the mean as the campaign winds on, so expect him to begin finding the goal column again soon.
Semin the Passer
With the 'Canes looking to build on a goal moments earlier and tie the game at three apiece, Semin came up with a loose puck in the offensive zone and had a few milliseconds to make a decision with the puck.
The entire Bruins roster expected him to let loose a rocket, but Semin's excellent patience and vision instead set up a perfect pseudo-breakaway for Eric Staal that evened the score and gave Carolina their second goal in less than a minute.
While the 'Canes would go on to lose 5-3 in that particular contest, Semin's puck-handling vision has initiated a plethora of scoring chances in every game of the year. At right, No. 28's deceptive slap-pass to Jeff Skinner opened the cross-crease pass that led to Justin Faulk's game-sealing tally against Toronto.
Semin, a greedy player? That reputation will soon be long gone.
Semin the Defensive Forward
Carolina head coach Kirk Muller has made sure that condemnation isn't going to come up again.
Semin is a plus-six through nine games, having been on the ice for nine Carolina goals and just three scores at the other end. He's tied for third on the team with eight takeaways. He's leading all 'Canes forwards with 21:31 average TOI per game.
The obscure defensive numbers also look solid—Semin's on-ice Corsi rating, a shot differential statistic including blocked and missed shots, is plus-9.19. Moreover, the Hurricanes' scoring chance differential is plus-20 when Semin is on the ice and only plus-one when he's not.
His positioning and reactionary skills are also on the rise. Semin made a fantastic, split-second poke check to deny Phil Kessel a shot a half-empty net Monday night at the ACC. The goal would've been Kessel's first of the year and given the Leafs a 2-0 first intermission lead, and the 'Canes eventual comeback for a 4-1 win might never have happened.
Semin the Team Player
Regardless of the endless on-ice highlights and game-turning plays, one argument against Semin has always stood out above the rest: his attitude.
No. 28 has always been a controversial character. He had a love-hate relationship with many of the Capitals' coaches, players and fans during his seven seasons there, and, upon his official departure last July, he stole a Washington equipment bag—so he could burn it.
That's all changed in Carolina. Semin, the only Russian on the roster, has gotten along well with his 'Cane teammates and impressed the club's brass, too.
GM Rutherford on Semin per a CBC interview this past week:
Players have to focus on him all the time. They’re watching Semin, which opens [the ice] up a little more for Eric [Staal].
He’s such a talented player, he can do whatever he wants, quite frankly. If he’s determined to score a goal, he’s gonna get his chances. If he’s going to play a two-way game, he can play it. He can kill penalties, play the power play.
He’s been every bit as good as I hoped he’d be.
And Eric Staal on Semin per an NHL Network spot last week:
[Our chemistry] has been developing every game. He's been a lot of fun to play with. He's really been opening up the ice for me with those little passes and little plays and we're only going to get better...as we go.
We're happy to have him, that's for sure.
Semin's one-year deal is currently slated to expire this summer, but a full season of impact like this will surely earn the 28-year-old a much, much longer stay in Raleigh.
One of the NHL's best two-way forwards?
For Alexander Semin, that title is becoming less of an overstatement with each passing day.
Mark Jones has been a Bleacher Report featured columnist since 2009, receiving almost a million views on his 450-plus articles to date.
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