A quartet of prospects plied their trade in the European leagues this season — two are players the Canadiens would love to bring over next year, the other two are a pair that they’ve previously let slip through their grasp. Three of the four could find themselves on North American shores next season en route to eventually suiting up at the Bell Centre.
Maxim Trunev, RW
Selected: 5th round, 138th overall, 2008
The 18-year-old winger completed his first full season with the KHL’s Severstal Cherepovets franchise and the 5’11, 174-pounder had a limited impact with the club. In 34 games, he accounted for four goals and added one assist.
Trunev’s junior rights are held by the Tri-City Americans and his first taste of North American action could come with that WHL franchise should he decide to come over early. As a 19-year-old, he’d have to finish his junior eligibility since he was drafted before his 18th birthday. In fact, the Canadiens feel they may have a steal in Trunev, due to his youth. There were some suggestions that the player, who has been described as a cross between the two Kostitsyn brothers, could have been a first-round selection in this year’s draft, but for a couple of days on his birth certificate.
An offensively skilled player, who has solid puck-handling skills, Trunev needs to have an opportunity to play a greater role, in more situations, than what he has this season. Whether that means an increased role with Severstal or in Tri-City remains to be seen.
Niklas Torp, D
Selected: 6th round, 163rd overall, 2007
The newly turned 20-year-old blueliner posted solid numbers in the Elitserien, racking up 43 PIMs in 44 games with HV 71. His offensive numbers (two assists) aren’t eye-opening, but Torp’s wasn’t drafted as an offensive weapon. The 5’11, 200-pounder is known for his defense and hockey smarts.
He enjoyed some outstanding experience at the World Junior Hockey Championships, playing in all six games, and earning a silver medal. His club team has also enjoyed success this season, currently earning a berth in the Elitserien finals against powerhouse Farjestad.
He’s played a strong supporting role with HV 71, setting a physical tone for his team with his aggressive — and sometimes borderline — play. Torp’s defensive excellence will be in demand against Farjestad in the playoffs, and the Habs — a club that places a premium on elite competitive experience — will no doubt be delighted with Torp’s development and opportunities in the WJC and the Elitserien playoffs.
Pavel Valentenko, D
Selected: 5th round, 139th overall, 2006
The Habs haven’t been lucky with Russian blueliners. In 2007, Alexei Yemelin was lost to a contract with Ak Bars Kazan; in 2008 Valentenko went home on personal business — and ended up staying, signing a three-year contract with Dynamo Moscow.
Valentenko posted a blog back in January, essentially stating that the reason he left was a personal decision — specifically referring to the fact that he was tired of the buses and tired of the promises of a call-up that never came. While that seems odd in light of the fact that he left the AHL just four games into the season, those are the only justifications we have on the record. Valentenko added that his Dynamo contract allows him to come back to the NHL after two seasons, so it appears that the Habs will have to wait at least one more year for the young blueliner.
There have been a lot of whispers about the nature of the contract, much of which paint the 6’2, 218-pound, 21-year-old blueliner in a much better light. Family concerns trump all and there are suggestions that Valentenko’s decision was not about where he wanted to play, but where he had to play for family considerations. That said, the Canadiens are out a very talented blueliner who could have donned the red, white, and blue for the big club this past season.
Alexei Yemelin, D
Selected: 3rd round, 84th overall, 2004
The wait may be soon be over for those who have been anticipating the arrival of the now-22-year-old blueliner. It was back in 2007 that the Canadiens were shocked to learn that Yemelin had signed a two-year contract with Ak Bars Kazan of the KHL. That contract expires and the young Russian has previously expressed his desire to continue his career in North America.
It’s not a surprise to hear that — but forgive the Habs’ brass for not counting their Russian blueliners before they’re inked. The past two years have been a developmental wasteland for the 6’0, 190-pound blueliner. His rugged style of play seems to have been singled out and he’s spend more time in the penalty box and has had less room to develop than he — or the club — would have liked.
Success breeds success, and it seems that Yemelin is snake-bit on that front as well. His club is in the KHL finals, but a severe injury suffered at the hands of Alex Svitov ended his playoff experience. Yemelin suffered a broken nose, a mild concussion, and an injury to the left eye in receiving a beating from the 6’4 Svitov.
Yemelin played in 51 games, only accounting for three assists, but also bringing down his penalty totals to a more respectable 58 minutes from a whopping 123 the season previous. Prior to his injury, he was on the club’s top blueline pair and has played a key role in the club’s defensive success.
The question remains, though, will there be any last-minute cloak-and-daggeresque signing, or will the promising young blueliner finally get to ply his trade on North American ice?