Here we are in August, the lazy days of the National Hockey League. It's been almost 2 months since the last official hockey game was played and will be almost 2 months until the preseason schedule kicks off. We have already been through the NHL Draft and most of the significant free agent signings have already taken place. So we're stuck with very limited news, except for Shane Doan's decision and the ongoing negotiations of the new CBA. So I thought I would put together a new series of articles that focus on player expectations for the upcoming year. These "Expectations" articles will take a look at current Canes players, how & where they will fit in the lineup, and what we might expect from them regarding play and point production.
I decided to start with the Canes newest member, Alexander Semin. A controversial player to say the least, many people have many different opinions of Semin and what his production with the Canes might be. But there is no denying the fact that Semin is a highly skilled player that has scored at least 21 goals and 42 points in each of the last six seasons. How those talents will transfer to the Canes though is still a huge question. Who will he be put on a line with? How well will he work with those linemates? How many goals and points will he register? These are the things I will try to examine in this article. So happy reading, let us know what you think and let us know what you EXPECT from Alexander Semin this season.
Semin was acquired mainly for one reason, to give Eric Staal a top-tier winger to play with. While there is still a chance he plays with someone else, the better-than-average odds are that he will spend most of his time playing alongside Eric. Now the question of who the other linemate will be is a much more complex issue. If Eric stays at center, then the top line LW position will be open. Jussi Jokinen could slide in that slot. He would add some playmaking abilities for the two scorers and he also is defensively responsible. This would allow Eric and Alex to focus more on putting the puck in the net. An issue here is that line would lack some strength. Eric will battle down low and on the boards, but Alex and Jussi are more finesse players and don't get too physical. The other issue with this is that neither Alex or Jussi are very fast and that could pose some limitations for Eric, who does a lot of his scoring on rushes. Another option for LW would be Jiri Tlusty. Tlusty is probably the least likely top 6 player for the Canes, but he could provide Alex and Eric some things Jussi can't. While Tlusty isn't a huge player, he does have nice size and is willing to work the dirty areas. He also plays a solid two-way game and can score & distribute the puck effectively. He's not the playmaker Jussi is, but his other attributes would probably balance the line better. Now if Eric switches to wing, that would mean Jordan will move up to the 1st line center position. With a Staal/Staal/Semin line, the talent level of that line would be unparalleled for the Canes. You would have 3 guys capable of scoring 25+ goals and all would have very nice size. Jordan would add the most defensive presence, but he is a guy that has plenty of offensive abilities also. Again, while anything can happen, I think one of these 3 lines will be most likely.
Another thing to consider is the powerplay. This season is going to be real interesting, because of who the Canes can roll out there on the PP. Semin will be on one of the 2 PP units, but which one? I believe the most likely scenario would be Staal/Staal/Semin. Jordan's big body could be used as a net presence and given his hands, he should be able to put in some rebounds. Alex would probably play the half-wall. From here, Alex could use his creativity to distribute the puck or move into better position to use his wrister. This would allow Eric a little space to move around. He could play behind the net, in the slot, etc. Eric is best when he is in motion and Jordan & Alex would allow him to do this. Of course with the additional offensive skill the Hurricanes acquired this offseason, there will be plenty of option for the PP. I'm sure Kirk Muller will try many different combinations to find which group has the most chemistry and which ones succeed.
Expected Point Production
In 7 seasons in the NHL, Semin has played in 469 regular season games, scored 197 goals, had 211 assists, and is a combined +65. That averages out to 67 games a season, 28 goals, 30 assists, 58 points, a +9, and 0.87 PPG. But over the past 3 seasons (IMO a better indication) he has averaged 72 games, 30 goals, 34 assists, a +22, and 0.89 PPG. He had a career high of 40 goals and 84 points in the 09/10 season, but the last 2 seasons have been somewhat down years for Alex. In the past 2 seasons, he has a combined 49 goals and 108 points. That's not bad, as the point total would rank 2nd on the Canes during that time period, but it is a drop off for Semin. During that time, the Capitals went through a style change and if seemed to have a significant effect on Semin. His PPG production dropped by 28% and then again by another 16%. So is this a trend or just an adjustment to a playing style that was focused more on defense? The Canes are not expected to play the way the "go go Caps" did, but based on their moves this summer, they might push more to an offensively aggressive style of play.
Obviously a key factor to Alex's point production will be who he plays with and which PP unit he will be playing on. If Semin is lined up with Eric and Tlusty, as I expect, and he see 1st PP unit time with Eric & Jordan, I really think he could be in for a very good year. If he can stay relatively healthy (playing in at least 70 games), I think he can be around a point per game player with the Canes. My expectations for Semin are 74 games played, 30 goals, 39 assists, 69 points, and a + player. But what do you think? What goal & point range do you think Semin will be in for the Canes this season?