After yet another devastating knee injury, Andrei Markov will be returning to the Montreal Canadiens lineup to begin the 2011-2012 season. Once seen as not only the best defenseman but the best player on the Habs, Markov will have some competition among the ranks.
P.K. Subban will look to build on his performance last season and solidify his reputation as one of the most electrifying young players in the NHL.
Assuming Markov doesn't succumb to injury, he will embrace the challenge and Habs fans will be graced with the presence of two dazzling D-men.
Last season in Pittsburgh, the Penguins had a similar situation with the breakout season of Kristopher Letang (50 points) and Alex Goligoski (31 points before he was traded to the Dallas Stars in February.)
The St Louis Blues have quite the tandem in Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo as well. Last season, splitting time with the Colorado Avalanche and the Blues, Shattenkirk registered 43 points. Pietrangelo matched Shattenkirk's point total, and is expected to improve his offensive and overall game in his second full season with the Blues.
Andrei Markov, who turns 33 in December, does not have the same youthful exuberance as his counterpart. What he does have, however, is experience and a near perfection of the game's fundamentals.
When Markov is in control of the puck, there is no doubt that he knows what he is doing with it. Turnovers don't really come off of his stick.
Subban sometimes throws caution to the wind in order to make a play. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it backfires.
He can learn a thing or two from Markov, whose finesse game is not compromised by making bad decisions. Ever.
There is no physicality in Markov’s game. He is strictly a positional defenseman that plays the angles like the best of them. If you are looking for the same bone-crunching hits from Andrei that you have seen from Subban, you’re not going to find them: just leave them up to the kid, I'm sure he won't disappoint.
There won’t be any booming howitzers from the point on the powerplay either. Again, though they may be part of P.K.’s game, but they aren’t part of Markov’s.
If you’re looking for sneaky backdoor passes, though, Andrei is your man.
The reason why Markov was once regarded as the Habs' best is because of his vision and intelligence. If Subban—nearly 10 years Markov's junior—can learn from Markov, and the Russian veteran can regain the form he exhibited before his string of injuries, the Montreal Canadiens may have the best defensemen pairing in the league.
The two have a lot to prove this season. Markov needs to show that he can stay healthy and be worth the three-year, $17.25 million deal that he signed earlier in the offseason, while Subban is looking for a big contract of his own.
Both ultimately want to be the best and will elevate each other's games in trying to get there.
Jason is on Twitter: @jhytel