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2015-16 Montreal Canadiens Season Preview: Alexei Emelin

After a difficult 2014-15 season, Alexei Emelin will look to turn his fortunes around.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

The 2014-15 season was the first year of Alexei Emelin's contract extension that will pay him $16.4 million over a four-year span.

The deal came with a full no-trade clause in the first two years, with a limited version that kicks in at the start of the 2016-17 season.  It was finalized before Emelin had played a single game, after sustaining a season-ending knee injury near the end of the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.

That contract is the fault of Marc Bergevin, who over-estimated Emelin's future impact with the club after a good 38-game sample and unnecessarily put his signature on a four-year extension in the middle of a season in which the player had not yet participated.  Emelin is not to blame for having the worst contract in the organization, so this article will not be a condemnation of a player whose on-ice contributions have not reflected his monetary value.

2014-15 Review

It is, instead, a look at an NHL player who was not very good last season.  Emelin finished the year with a zone-start-adjusted (by ignoring all shot attempts occurring in the first 10 seconds following a face-off) Corsi-for percentage of 46.9%, and registered a shot-attempts-for percentage of under 40% on 23 occasions during a 68-game regular season.

Emelin 2014-15 10-game CF%
2014-15 10-game average Corsi-for percentage with Emelin on the ice (blue line) compared to when he was not (orange line). Score-adjusted five-on-five data from WAR On Ice. Charts created by Spencer Mann.

Emelin, along with his most common defence partner last season, Tom Gilbert, had a good run in early February during which the Canadiens were a better team with the duo on the ice than while they were sitting on the bench, but another injury sidelined the Russian defender for a month and he was unable to regain that relative advantage upon his return.

When it comes to converting possession into offence, Emelin managed to score three goals and contribute 11 assists.  He has experienced a gradual decline in his production-per-game pace since his stellar 2012-13 season, though those 14 points were still good enough to be ranked among the top 120 defencemen; a point total of a top-four producer on the back-end.

Emelin Passing Project
Data provided by contributors to the Passing Project, led by Ryan Stimson.  | Glossary of Terms

The above chart confirms Emelin's poor passing and possession abilities, with a sample of data from about 17 games seeing him ranked very low in generating both shots and shot attempts, whether from a direct shot at the net himself or providing a pass that sets one up.  He doesn't often get into the offensive zone — nor does he help his teammates get there, as evidenced by his entry assist numbers — but when he does he is very good at launching pucks close to the net that are turned into high-danger chances from the scoring area (the SC SAG/60 bar).  That could explain how he has been able to put up decent assist totals despite spending so much of his career in his own zone.

2015-16 Projection

Alexei Emelin can be counted on to score the requisite three goals he's managed in each of his first four NHL seasons, and he'll hope to end the downward trend of his season point totals.

Emelin 2015-16 Marcel projection

2015-16 Marcel statistical projection courtesy of Domenic Galamini | Calculation procedure

His projection indicates that that decline will cease, though it does take his 2012-13 season totals — before his knee injury — into account.  He will find it difficult to reach the possession target listed, but it should be mentioned that he, along with every other member of the defence corps, managed to finish the post-season with a positive shot attempt differential, so there is reason to believe in an increase in the time the team spends in control of the puck.  A change in his usage could help him out in that area, as well.

Andrei Markov and Nathan Beaulieu will be above Emelin on the depth chart, meaning Emelin should be battling for the third-pairing role with Jarred Tinordi, a player desperate to prove he belongs in the NHL, and a player determined to regain that standing in Mark Barberio.

A botttom-two deployment with easier zone starts and lower-level competition could reduce the difficulty of moving the puck up the ice, and his penchant for generating chances should mesh well with the addition of offensively-talented middle-six forwards.