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The Associated Press
Published: Sunday, October 15, 2006

Semin off to fast start for McPhee's Capitals

He's Alexander the Good.

Semin, that is, not the great Ovechkin.

The first hat trick of the season didn't come via Ovechkin, who may be Wayne Gretzky's favourite player, but from his Washington teammate, Semin, the reluctant one.

Semin, 22, was drafted in 2002 in the first round, but said nyet to the Caps after 52 games in 2003-04 and hiked back to Russia for two years, much to the exasperation of the Caps, who eventually sued after the ugly contract hassle, saying he'd signed a valid NHL contract and couldn't play anywhere else.

Semin, through his agent Mark Gandler, had claimed he had to stay in Russia to fulfil his two-year military service. After playing for Lada Togliatti and Khimik, a team outside Moscow, when he never came near a gun or a Russian tank, Semin signed a two-year NHL deal this summer and leads the league with five goals in three games.

"He's not Ovechkin, but he's a very talented player with a little bite to his play. And he's got a tremendous shot," said Caps GM George McPhee, who watched Semin score three on Carolina's Cam Ward last week, the same game in which Ovechkin got two.

Semin is nowhere near as dynamic as Ovechkin, but then who is? Sidney Crosby. On some nights, Ilya Kovalchuk, although not so far this year. But it looks like the wait for Semin was worth it, although McPhee was growing very tired of the runaround.

After his 52-game season with the Caps in '03-'04, Semin finished the year playing for their AHL farm club in Portland, Maine. The next year, the lockout season, they wanted him in Portland again to play with their top prospects, but he bolted. He played the lockout year for Lada, a teammate of Oilers goalie Jussi Markkanen, then when Lada had money troubles the next year, he went to Khimik. All the while, saying he had military duty and couldn't return for the last two years of his NHL contract.

"We wanted him to play with our young guys in Portland, but he said couldn't get out of his military duty, which was B.S.," spat McPhee. "For all the trouble we went through, we'd have done better getting him a warm coat so he could stay over there."

Markkanen liked Semin's ability in the year they played together. "He has a goal-scorer's touch ... where if he gets hot in a game, he might score four. He's got a shot like Joffrey Lupul. He scored about 20 goals in our lockout year in Russia, and that's a lot of goals in that league," said Markkanen.

Markkanen didn't see Semin with any firearms in Togliatti and he wasn't confined to any army barracks.

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