Canes’ Alexander Semin a little-known star

calexander@newsobserver.comApril 22, 2013 

  • Alexander Semin

    Semin is from Krasnoyarsk, Russia, and spends his summers at home. He spends time at a foster home in his hometown during the summers and donates sports equipment and clothing. … His father was his hockey coach until he was 13 and has been the biggest influence on his career. … His favorite player growing up was Pavel Bure. … His favorite sport other than hockey is soccer, and his favorite soccer team is FC Barcelona. … He likes fishing and water sports. … His favorite artist is poet, singer and composer Stas Mikhailov.

    – Carolina Hurricanes

— Having signed a five-year contract extension with the Carolina Hurricanes, Alexander Semin will become one of the best-known sports figures in the Triangle.

How well sports fans come to know Semin is another story.

The Russian winger rarely gives interviews. Even rarer are appearances on camera. He speaks passable English but appears uncomfortable with the media.

Some say Semin, 29, is wary of the media. Some say he’s a shy, introverted person, although teammates describe him as a friendly, easy going type.

“He’s a fun guy around us,” forward Jiri Tlusty said. “He seemed like a quiet guy at first, but now he’s all over the place. I think he enjoys his time with us. That’s great, and we’re happy to be around him.”

Soon after signing the $35 million extension last month, Semin took the team out to eat, picking up a sizable tab. A good time, apparently, was had by all.

That’s all anecdotal. For now, that’s how the media – and, in turn, hockey fans – get information about a player who has been a point-per-game producer for the Canes in his first season and played on the top line with Eric Staal and Tlusty.

Triangle sports fans are accustomed to having more immediacy with their stars, whether it’s homegrown figures such as Josh Hamilton and Webb Simpson or those who play college sports. Staal is interviewed often. Fans see and hear a lot from, say, the Canes’ Jeff Skinner.

There is no language barrier. They are willing interviewees. It’s different with Semin, but that could change, Staal said.

“Well, he’s going to be here the next five years, so the fans can continue to learn about him,” Staal said. “I’m sure his personality as the time goes on will come out more and more. I think he’ll continue to learn the language more and people will get to know him and his personality.”

‘He’s actually pretty open’

Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford signed Semin to the extension but says he does not speak to him often, leaving that to Canes coach Kirk Muller and the staff. But Muller says he has no problem communicating with the forward.

“I probably talk to him maybe more than any player on the team,” Muller said. “It’s not long (but) he has no problem coming to me, direct, whether he feels like he needs a day off or has a question about the power play.

“He’s actually pretty open. He won’t do it in the big group, but he’ll come to me one-on-one. He’s been good that way.”

Staal, the Canes team captain, said he knew nothing of Semin’s personality before the season began in January. In seven years with the Washington Capitals, Semin played many games against the Canes in the Southeast Division and scored a lot of goals, but that was the extent of Staal’s knowledge of him.

“I’ve since gotten to know him on a personal level as well as a competitive level,” Staal said. “He’s a guy who has been a good teammate to everybody. He’s a guy who has been ready to work and ready to compete, in practice and games,

“For me, to be able to play with a guy with the work ethic he has and then the skill level he has, it has been fun. It has made my game better.”

Staal, who centers the line, ranks among the NHL scoring leaders with 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists). Tlusty, who has played the left wing on the line, has a career-high 21 goals.

A smart hockey player

Semin has 12 goals and 31 assists – 43 points in 43 games – and a plus-14 rating. For those wondering how the signing of an extension might affect Semim, he had 30 points in 30 games before the March 25 signing, 13 points in 13 games since it.

Muller said he would like to see Semin be more selfish – in a good way. Don’t pass up good shots. Don’t look to make the perfect pass. Shoot the puck.

“The thing with Alex – he’s not going to do everything 100 percent in alignment with your system because he thinks the game in a special way,” Muller said. “He reads the play one play ahead of a lot of people. He’s a smart hockey player.”

Tlusty sits next to Semin in the PNC Arena locker room, learning a few more Russian words each week. All the better, Tlusty said, to needle the Russian.

Tlusty said there was a power outage in PNC Arena last season, and the players jokingly blamed it on Tuomo Ruutu signing a contract extension.

“We were telling him the power would probably go off again,” Tlusty said.

During games, the Staal line has been consistently good. Against Tampa Bay on Sunday, Tlusty scored twice. Semin had a goal and two assists and Staal two assists.

In the heat of games, with the crowd roaring, it can be difficult for players to talk to each other, even side by side on the bench. And then to have a player who has trouble with English ...

But that is not a problem with Semin, Staal said.

“He grasps everything you’re trying to tell him,” Staal said. “When you play together you can read situations, read plays and understand what each other’s kind of thinking.

“That’s what I love about playing with him. We kind of think on the same level of what we’re doing on the ice.”

While the Canes likely will undergo offseason changes, there should be one constant: The top line will stay together. The chemistry with Semin will continue to grow, Staal said.

“It’s going to be fun for the next while to be able to play together and continue to develop a relationship off the ice and on the ice,” Staal said.

Alexander: 919-829-8945; Twitter: @ice_chip

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