The word around the league this morning is that the Montreal Canadiens are on the verge of signing long-awaited Russian defensive prospect Alexei Yemelin to a one-year deal.
Originally drafted in the third round, 84th overall by the Montreal Canadiens, Yemelin has been hesitant to make the leap to North America. The Canadiens have been on the verge of signing Yemelin several times over the last seven years, only to have the rug pulled out from under them at the last minute.
As such, I'd hold judgment on the situation until something official comes out.
That being said, when TSN's Bob McKenzie said it is signed and sealed—as he did today—it sounds as good as gold.
Official word next week
It was Le Journal de Montreal's Marc de Foy who originally broke the story and he is indicating that the deal will be made official next week. Habs' GM Pierre Gauthier will be sitting down with Yemelin—and Andrei Markov—agent, Don Meehan, next week and it is believed that the announcement will come after that meeting.
All indications are that it is a one-year deal that stipulates Yemelin can return to Russian, rather than reporting to the AHL Hamilton Bulldogs, if he doesn't make the Habs out of training camp.
This is a rare occurrence, to be sure, but the only way the Habs would get a shot at seeing him in a uniform.
Here are a few news pieces on Yemelin from today:
Journal de Montreal, Hockey Inside/Out, RDS, Cyberpresse.ca
For those who don't know or have forgotten, since it's been so long, Yemelin is exactly the type of defensemen the Habs need.
A big, strong, hard-hitting, tough-as-nails stay-at-home defenseman who has the ability to agitate the opposition while clearing them from the front of the net.
The concern is that playing in the KHL for so many years, where his aggressive style is punished more than rewarded, Yemelin has spent too much time in the penalty box overseas.
Keep in mind that he is not a dirty player, just one that plays with an edge.
As such, his robust style fits well in the NHL game but not some much overseas where the game is more skill-focused.
The best comparable for Yemelin would be a Darius Kasparaitis-type player.
Click here to read his Hockey's Future player profile.
So what's next?
If I was a betting man, I'd say that barring a major meltdown, Yemelin will make the Habs squad out of camp. This is a player who can help the team and they would rather have him learn on the job in Montreal than be lost forever in Russia.
Montreal is more than likely going to come to terms on a new agreement with Andrei Markov over the next few weeks, meaning that he can play a mentoring role for his Russian compatriot next season.
If Yemelin makes the team, he will be an excellent addition to a blueline that will potentially count on Markov, Josh Gorges, Hal Gill, P.K. Subban, Yannick Weber and Jaroslav Spacek.
The deal sounds like a no-brainer to me, since this is the only way Yemelin will come to training camp. From there, it really comes down to how much he wants to play in North America versus Russia.
Only time will tell but for now, this is a good step in the right direction.
What's your take?
Kamal is a freelance Habs writer, Senior Writer/Editor-in-Chief of HabsAddict.com, Montreal Canadiens Blogger on Hockeybuzz.com and Habs writer on TheFranchise.ca. Kamal is also a weekly contributor to the Sunday Shinny on The Team 990 (AM 990) every Sunday from 8 to 9 a.m. Listen live at http://www.team990.com/
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