Perhaps the biggest question mark coming into the 2013 season for the Montreal Canadiens is injured defenseman Alexei Emelin. Last season Emelin was tasked with one main job; cover for and protect Andrei Markov. Covering for Markov's often ill-advised pinches was tough on Emelin, but you have to admire the pure punishment he took just to ease the wear and tear on Andrei.
Emelin was playing the right side consistently for the first time in his career, but if the puck was dumped in on the left side, he was still the one to go get it. In the corners it was always Emelin, with Markov playing the Karlsson role of 'hang back and pick up loose pucks'. The pairing, dubbed "The Iron Curtain", was extremely successful for most of the season considering the kind of minutes they were playing, but a freak knee injury off of a failed check has put Emelin in a whole new situation.
Not the quickest skater anyway, Emelin is looking at a November return if he's hopeful, and who knows what kind of mobility he will have in his surgically repaired knee. The swelling from the injury was so bad that surgery was delayed over a month, to give some indication of the severity of the injury.
Emelin's physical presence was sorely missed in the lineup, as was his ability to put up about even possession numbers in tough minutes. Can he be the player he was though? It's an open question.
In the following graph, the blue line is Emelin's even-strength Fenwick percentage from 2011 to 2013, the red line is his team's even-strength Fenwick percentage without him on the ice, and the green line is Emelin's offensive-zone start percentage, giving us insight into his usage and role. All statistics are at even strength, and all are rolling 10-game averages. What this means is that aside from the first 10 points in the graph, every point represents a 10-game sample, giving us a better grasp of trends.
With all that information on one graph, it can look a little messy and be tough to decipher, so I've included trend lines for each statistic. To understand the trend lines, blue turns into black, red turns into yellow, and green turns into purple. The x-axis is simply the games to represent time, and the y-axis is the percentage in decimal form, and the placement of the y-axis is the beginning of the 2013 season.
WIth so few games to evaluate Emelin, it's actually surprising that his trend has been so static. He's improved slightly since he first broke into the league, and his role has become slightly tougher, but there's no real change here for us to talk about. He has made the turn from a negative possession player to a positive one, which is a very good sign, but at Emelin's age it's unlikely that he gets much better than he is right now, which is a 4th or 5th defenseman on a good team.
Part of Emelin's game that's rarely talked about is his offense, and he hasn't received any opportunity to play on the Habs' powerplay, even the other option was Francis Bouillon. Emelin is among the Habs' better point producers from the back end at even strength, and he has a deceptively good shot. If given the opportunity, he has the instincts to be an okay second-wave powerplay guy, but he's unlikely to get that opportunity.
Because of that, over a full season (he won't play a full year) you shouldn't expect more than three or four goals and 20 points out of Emelin.