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Will Alex Semin return to his elite goal-scoring levels?

The newly-acquired winger's production has been underwhelming in recent years; can he turn it around in Montreal?

Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

From 2006 to 2010, Alexander Semin scored a total of 166 goals in 340 games, establishing himself as one of the elite scoring wingers in the NHL. The last three seasons, however, have seen a sharp decline in his offensive production, which resulted in only 41 goals over the course of 166 games. That represents a major downtick in goals per game, from 0.49 to 0.25.

As evidenced by the animated HERO chart below, Semin experienced quite the drop off in goal production.

rolling hero chart

What went wrong?

First off, his shot totals saw a steep decline once he joined the Carolina Hurricanes, as did his shooting percentage. The fact of the matter is that the Hurricanes weren't particularly playing to his strengths last season. It's also worth noting that Semin modified his own style of play, which affected his goal scoring in a very drastic fashion.

As our video expert Jack Han put it:

Looking at the tape, the biggest difference we notice is that Semin is no longer much of a scoring threat from the right side of the ice. Despite technically playing right-wing, Semin is really much more of a left-winger from the red-line out. Instead of sticking to his side of the ice, Semin prefers to gather the puck somewhere near his zone, pick up speed through the neutral zone and use the entire width of the ice.
This does two things: 1) it forces opposing defenders to switch coverage, potentially opening up holes which he can exploit later, and 2) it allows Semin to enter the offensive zone with speed, control of the puck, and a better shooting angle. In 2013-14, Semin scored 14 of his goals off the rush, with a wrist shot. Only two of them came on the right side of the ice.

If there's any hope for Semin to return to his former goal-scoring glory, he'll have to be allowed to make errors, give up the puck, and on occasion frustrate both fans and coaches alike. That's simply the reality when it comes to creative players. Semin wasn't brought in to dump the puck, and provide energy via forechecks. He's there to score goals, and for that he'll need a relatively long leash to allow him to find his stride.

He'll also need some help, although from what we've seen in preseason action, Michel Therrien is intent on surrounding him with talented linemates. The instant chemistry that was produced once he was paired with Alex Galchenyuk and Lars Eller is incredibly encouraging.

As for once again establishing himself as an elite goal scoring winger, I fear those days are behind him. His wrist surgery following 2014 helped repair some of the nagging issues he was experiencing, but we'd have to be naive to ignore that the 31-year-old is past the prime of his career.

He won't hit 40 goals, he probably won't hit 30 goals, but there's a very legitimate possibility that the Russian winger may crack the 25-goal mark, especially if he remains healthy.

It'll take consistency from Semin when it comes to shot production, probably somewhere in the 200+ range. Leniency from the coach once some mistakes are inevitably made. And a dash of luck in terms of his shooting percentage, ideally 10% or more.

Of course, considering he's making less than Torrey Mitchell this season, even a 10-goal year should be considered a success in terms of cap investment.

Semin's best days are behind him, but he still has plenty to give. Now that he's joined a goal-starved team like the Canadiens the opportunities should be plentiful, and the goals should flow, but only if the Habs play to his strengths.