March 13, 2012

Alexei Emelin: The Togliatti Thunder

I do not follow the Kontinental Hockey League scene too closely, but one name I always followed with interest was defenseman Alexei Emelin.

Emelin was never your typical Russian defenseman. The 6'2" 220lb rearguard hits anything in sight with a thunderous impact. He is a Big Red Hitting Machine. A big open ice hitter, the Togliatti Thunder is another Darius Kaspariatis.

Montreal drafted Emelin way back in 2004, but it was not until this season that he finally ventured to this side of the Atlantic Ocean. He stayed home with Lada Togliatti before becoming a mainstay on the blue line for AK Bars Kazan, winning back-to-back Gagarin Cups as KHL champions.

This season has been far from great for the Montreal Canadiens. But Emelin has progressed nicely as the season has moved along. He started out as a regular scratch depth defenseman, as the Canadiens tried to allow him time to adjust to North America. Injuries quickly depleted the Habs' blue line, throwing Emelin into the fire with some mixed results. He was perhaps a bit guilty of wandering from position to make the big hit or bad decisions on pinches.

But he has settled in nicely here in the second half. He is in the top ten in hits thrown, first among all first year players. He loves the open ice hit. The rest of his game is far from polished, especially in the offensive zone.

Emelin came to Montreal with just a one year, two way contract, and with a murky past when it comes to contract talks with the Habs. Will he stay in the NHL or return home to the KHL? He has more upside and it would be interesting to see if he can reach his potential in the NHL.

Here's some of Emelin's greatest hits:

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