The Carolina Hurricanes made their biggest free agent signing in quite awhile this off-season when they inked high-scoring winger Alexander Semin to a one-year contract worth $7 mil. Someone who is making that much money is expected to produce and have an immediate impact and Semin has done just that for Carolina. His one goal in eight games may not indicate it, but Semin has been one of the Hurricanes best players and it's because of his fantastic play in all three zones.
Semin might have only one goal on the season and zero at even strength but that doesn't mean he hasn't been creating offense. He's currently tied for second on the team with Eric Staal in shots on goal and has been producing over four shots per game. Semin's presence and offensive instincts are also one of the main reasons why Staal has gotten off to such a hot start this season. These two have led most of the Canes offensive rushes and Semin's creative puck-handling has helped open up some more opportunities for Staal. Defenders are often drawn to Semin because he often has possession of the puck and it has helped free up some more space for Staal to work with. As a result, Staal is having one of his best starts in recent memory, Semin has six assists and the Hurricanes first line is possibly one of the most dangerous units in the Eastern Conference.
There are a lot of stats you could throw around to show Semin's value to Carolina but if you had to pick just one it would be this little nugget. When Semin is on the ice during five-on-five play, the Hurricanes scoring chance differential is +20, when he isn't on the ice, it's only +1. Shows that whenever Semin's line is on the ice, they are tilting things in the Hurricanes favor and give the team a better chance of winning. Semin has obviously played a huge role in that for the reasons listed above. It's also worth mentioning that Semin has been on-ice for 8 of the 14 goals Carolina has scored during five-on-five play.
Semin has also been very impressive away from the puck. We've seen him do a fine job back-checking on numerous occasions as he has shown much more hockey sense and defensive awareness than most give him credit for. Semin's strong defensive play is reflected in his underlying numbers, as he has been on-ice for only 3.73 even strength scoring chances per 15 minutes*, the third lowest rate among Carolina forwards. Part of the reason for this could be due head coach Kirk Muller giving his line a zone start push but regardless, they have done a terrific job of keeping play in the offensive zone.
Saying that Semin has done everything for the Hurricanes this year but score would be an accurate statement since he has helped the team out in multiple areas despite only having one goal on the season. His shooting percentage isn't going to stay at 2.9% forever with how many shots and scoring chances he is creating on a nightly basis, so he is due for a breakout game soon but until then, it's great to see him contributing in other areas.
Admittedly, Semin's performance this year has been really fun to watch after he was pegged as a "one-dimensional" player and a "bad teammate" by media pundits over the summer. He has been the exact opposite of that during his first eight games with Carolina and more than worth the risk GM Jim Rutherford took on him.
*Scoring chance numbers are being tracked by me on Shutdown Line