I have stated in this space multiple times (over multiple seasons) that I am fully in favor of Montreal bringing over Alexei Yemelin from the KHL to bolster its defense corps. Until now it has been a difficult proposition, but a story yesterday by Marc De Foy has re-energized my own hopes. Mike Boone over at HI/O linked the story today, and while there is work to be done to get him signed for next season – there are reasons to believe that this will be a major priority of Pierre Gauthier over the next few weeks. Yemelin is represented by Don Meehan, who also happens to represent Andrei Markov – and if Gauthier plays his cards right over the next few weeks he may have two Russian defenders in the lineup come October.
There are a few reasons why I am very high on the idea of bringing over Yemelin. First is the fact that Yemelin would need to sign an entry level deal for the first year of his NHL career. In a cap world – this is a coup. Yemelin turned 25 years old last month and has already had a great career in Russia. He will take an initial salary cut to play in North America, although with performance bonuses he would most likely earn more than a rookie deal.
Secondarily, Yemelin brings experience. He has represented his country at almost every international event since he was a teenager and will be FAR more experienced than any other prospect that the Canadiens could turn to on defense. Yemelin is a full grown man (though many sites still list his draft weight of 190 pounds). In truth he is closer to 220 these days. Though not a huge body like Ryan O’Byrne, Yemelin is hardly a lightweight – which brings me to point three.
Yemelin’s skill set is desperately needed by the Canadiens. They already have two premier offensive defensemen in Markov and Subban. Wisniewski could also be a part of the mix next season. What the Habs need now are dependable defenders who can be physical on opposition forwards. Yemelin is the guy. He’s a physical defenseman who can perfectly compliment a skilled player playing physical, makes a great first pass, and has decent speed, and will make opponents think twice about going to the corners or front of the net. If anything this off-season, the Habs need to get tougher to play against. If we’re going to have a small, speedy offense – the only way to mitigate the bigger teams taking liberties, is to back up the team with some physical defensemen.