Photo: Dilip Vashwanat/Getty Images
In the early years of the Alex Ovechkin era, the Capitals’ now-captain was one of two prominent goal scorers on the team that would eventually form the nucleus of the team’s core. The other, Alexander Semin, was arguably one of the best goal-scorers in franchise history and spent over a decade in D.C.. In this latest Capitals Alumni Profile, NoVa Caps looks back at the Capitals and hockey career of Semin.
Early Life and Career
Alexander Valerievich Semin was born on March 3, 1984, in Krasnoyarsk, Russia. His father, Valeri, was a former professional hockey defenseman, who worked as a department head in an aluminum factory. His mother, Tatiana, worked as a bank teller. He started playing hockey at the age of four, when his father modified a pair of figure skates and put him on ice. He was the second of two children, having an older sister, Oxana.
He was eventually good enough to represent Russia internationally, participating in a Five Nations Tournament and an Under-16 International Junior Tournament. At age 17, he was selected to attend the Traktor hockey school in Chelyabinsk, where he divided his time between the junior team and the professional team there. At the time, the Traktor, Chelyabinsk team was not in the Russian Super League (forerunner to Kontinental Hockey League) but in their second-tier professional league. He scored 13 goals and had eight assists in 46 games with Traktor Chelyabinsk. That season, he also played in the International Ice Hockey Federation Under 18 Championship games and scored eight goals and added seven assists for Russia in eight games. While with Chelyabinsk, he made a profound impression on one of the younger players at the hockey school there, a young forward by the name of Evgeny Kuznetsov.
After one season with Chelyabinsk, he earned a spot with Lada Togliatti, a team in the Russian Super League (RSL) for the 2002-03 season. He had 10 goals and seven assists in 47 games.
Career With the Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals drafted Semin 13th overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, the second of three first-round selections the team held that year (they selected defenseman Steve Eminger with the 12th overall pick and forward Boyd Gordon with the 18th overall pick). Semin did not arrive in North America until training camp of the 2003-04 season. He played most of the season with the Capitals, scoring 10 goals and adding 12 assists for 22 points overall in 52 games played. He also represented Russia in the IIHF World Junior games, where he scored two goals and two assists in six games for Team Russia. When the Caps’ 2003-04 season ended, he was sent down to play with their then-American Hockey League affiliate Portland Pirates, to help them in their playoff drive, appearing in the last four regular season games, scoring three goals and adding one assist, and recorded four goals and 11 points for Portland in their first round playoff series.
As a result of the 2004-05 NHL lockout, Semin returned to play with Lada Togliatti, while the Caps preferred that he play with Portland. He scored 19 goals for Togliatti and had 11 assists for 30 points in 50 games. Semin did not return to the NHL for the 2005-06 season due to military obligations in Russian, for which playing hockey sufficed and as a result, he returned to Lada Togliatti for the 2005-06 season. The Capitals sued Semin and his agent, Mark Gandler, for a breach of contract and suspended Semin the rest of the season. Lada Togliatti, meanwhile became bankrupt and Semin joined another Russian Super League team, Mytishchi Khimik, with whom he finished the season. For his two teams in 2005-06, he scored a combined eight goals and had 11 assists in 42 games. By April, Semin and his agent came to an agreement on a new contract; his old contract was nullified and he signed a new two-year contract which covered the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons.
Semin was back with the Capitals for the 2006-07 season and scored 38 goals, finishing second on the team in goals behind only countryman Ovechkin, and was one of three players on the team who topped 30 goals, the other being then-captain Chris Clark. Semin started the season playing third-line minutes and seeing power play time, but after a hot start to the season (eight goals in the first seven games, including a hat trick in the season opener), he was moved up to the second-line. He also contributed 35 assists to end the season with 73 points.
The following season (2007-08), Semin sprained his ankle at the end of the preseason and missed several games during October and November and as a result, got off to a slow start. He ended the season with 26 goals and 43 points, with many of his goals and assists important in the Capitals’ drive towards the playoffs. He contributed three goals and four assists in the team’s first round playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers, which the Caps lost in seven games.
Semin started the 2008-2009 season very well, earning the NHL Player of the Month Award for October. He suffered a setback in early November, leaving a game early due to injury and missing the entire third period. Originally not thought to be serious, he ended up missing nearly a month with what was eventually revealed to be a back injury. Just a little over a week later, his back was injured again from a cross-check and he subsequently missed two weeks. In the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs, he recorded five goals and three assists in the Capitals’ first round series against the New York Rangers, but no goals and five assists in the Caps’ second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins (which they lost in seven games).
2009-2010 proved to be a career year for Semin, as he scored 40 goals and added 44 assists despite a stretch in November in which he was hampered by a wrist injury. He struggled in the playoffs against the Montreal Canadiens, recording only two assists as the Caps lost in seven games. Semin got off to a great start in 2010-2011, finding himself among the league leaders in goals at the end of November, but injured his groin in early December at a time when the Caps were mired in a long losing streak. He finished the season with 28 goals, the slowed productivity attributed to his groin injury and then-Head Coach Bruce Boudreau’s switch to a “trap system” during the team’s long losing streak. He had a great showing in the team’s first-round playoff series against the New York Rangers, with three goals and one assist, including the game-winner in Game 1, but the second round was less productive, as he scored one goal and had one assist in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s sweep of the Capitals.
2011-12 would be Semin’s final season with the Capitals. He started the season slowly, with only five goals through early December and a rash of minor penalties, which led to a one-game healthy scratch. He finished the regular season with 21 goals, and in the playoff, had three goals against the Boston Bruins in Round 1 but did not score against the New York Rangers in the second round, as the Caps lost in seven games. Given his decline in scoring and the fact that teammates had criticized his work ethic the previous offseason, it was evident that he would not be returning to the team after that season.
Semin played in 469 games with the Caps in seven seasons, scoring 197 goals and adding 211 assists for 408 points overall. At the time of his departure, he ranked fifth in franchise history in goals, 15th points, 18th in assists, and 25th in games played for the franchise. He currently ranks sixth in career goals, 21st in assists, 32nd in games played . In other statistics, he ranked (and still ranks) ninth in both power play goals and game-winning goals for the franchise.
After the 2011-12 season, Semin signed a one-year contract with the Carolina Hurricanes. As a result of the 2012-13 being locked out for over half the season, Semin played in just 44 games. While not as productive in goal scoring that year as he had been in the past (just 13 goals), he was extremely productive when it came to assists, recording 31 assists, as part of a very productive first-line with Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty. He missed the final two games of the season with a concussion. Near the end of the season, he signed a five-year contract extension with Carolina.
During the 2013-14 season, he scored 22 goals and had 20 assists in 65 games after getting off to a slow start due to a wrist injury in training camp and then suffering a concussion in mid-November. He represented Russia in the Olympics that year, being chosen as an injury replacement. Once again, his season ended early, this time due to his wrist injury being re-aggravated, to the point where wrist surgery was needed after the season.
The 2014-15 season was a disaster for him. The ‘Canes had hired a new coach, Bill Peters, who Semin did not mesh well with at all. Between his differences with Peters and trying to recover from his offseason wrist surgery, he ended up being a healthy scratch several times. He scored just six goals and had 13 assists that season and the Hurricanes bought out the remainder of his contract after the season. For Carolina, he had played in 166 games in three seasons, scoring 41 goals and adding 64 assists.
Semin signed a one-year contract for the Montreal Canadiens prior to the 2015-16 season, however he again struggled to produce. In 15 games played for the Habs, he scored one goal and had three assists. In December 2015, Montreal tried to send him down to their AHL affiliate, but Semin refused and preferred to play in the KHL instead. As a result, it brought an end to his NHL career. In 11 season in the NHL, Semin played a total of 650 games, scoring 239 goals, and adding 278 assists for 517 points.
Upon leaving the NHL, Semin signed a contract with Metallurg Magnitogorsk, where former Capitals teammate Viktor Kozlov was serving as an Assistant Coach, and with whom Capitals goalie prospect, Ilya Samsonov, was playing at the time. He played in 20 games for Magnitka, scoring five goals and adding nine assists. The team advanced to the Gagarin Cup Finals and beat the heavily-favored CSKA in an epic seven-game series, winning the Gagarin Cup in 2016. Semin was very productive in the first and third rounds of that series. After the season, he required groin surgery.
In 2016-17, he returned to Metallurg Magnitogorsk, recording 16 goals and 14 assists in 58 games. The team once again made it to the Gagarin Cup Finals, playing SKA. However, they were not able to defend their title. Semin failed to score in the playoffs and Metallurg decided they would not re-sign him for the next season.
Semin signed a contract for 2017-18 with his hometown team, HC Sokol Krasnoyarsk in the VHL. The following season, 2018-19, he returned to the KHL with Vityaz Moscow where he had 19 goals and 22 assists for 39 points in 54 games, his best season in the KHL in terms of production. He ended up missing most of the last few games of the season due to injury but returned for the season finale. The team, which had very little depth, was swept in Round 1 of the playoffs
In addition to playing in the KHL and one season in the VHL, Semin applied and was accepted into a graduate program for Metallurgy at Siberian Federal University. He also was one of the ambassadors for the 2019 Winter Universiade competition which took place in Krasnoyarsk and participated in events in the lead up to that competition.
Check out more Capitals Alumni Profiles HERE.
By Diane Doyle