One of the most talked about prospect in the Canadiens’ organization isn’t at this week’s rookie camp at the Bell Centre. However, Trevor Timmins, director of player development, is keeping his fingers crossed that defenceman Alexei Yemelin will be on hand for the 2009-2010 edition of rookie camp.
Yemelin, selected by Montreal in the third round, number 84 overall, in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, opted to stay in his homeland and play in the Russian League, initially with Tolyatti Lada. He is now into the second year of a two-year deal to play with AK Bars Kazan, and once the 22-year old completes his obligations in Russia, Timmins fully expects the 6-0, 187-pound blueliner join the Canadiens’ organization.
“He’s expressed interest and he wants to come here and he’s ready to make the step to North America,” said Timmins at the Bell Centre while this year’s rookie crop went through the paces on day three of camp. “We just have to hope he doesn’t sign any more deals in Russia,” Timmins added with a whistful look.
“He needs to get over here so that he can play his style of game. He’s a hard-nosed defenceman who likes to play physical. Any time he tries to do that — a little bit over the edge — he’s in the penalty box in Russia.”
Timmins saw Yemelin play in April at the under 18 championships in Russia and sat down with the young man and reiterated that “now is the time.”
“He has to come over as soon as he can. He informed us that he’s ready. He’s got one year left on his contract and he’ll play it out. He’ll come over here if we can work something out with him, contractually.”
In the meantime, another young Russian blueliner is quietly going about his business during this rookie camp — having taken a very different career route.
Pavel Valentenko, who turns 21 on October 20, was selected in round 5, 139th overall, in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. After two years of Russian League play, the 6-2, 214-pound native of Moscow played with the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL last season, scoring one goal and adding 15 assists in 57 games for the Canadiens’ farm team. Timmins likes what he sees of this young man.
“Pavel, he’s a good old country boy,” Timmins says with a laugh. “He’s big and strong and he has a passion for the game and he wants to play here. I think last year was a big learning step for him. It takes time to develop your game here, to change your game…a higher-paced game.”
Timmins said Valentenko is the type of player who could perhaps find himself in a Canadiens’ uniform at some point in the upcoming season, if the Habs find themselves in need of a player “like that” to come up.
“He’s close to being NHL ready.”
Valentenko seems to agree with that assesment by Timmins and admitted that he has visions of playing with the Canadiens at some point this season.
“I’m working hard for that. I hope so. I’m closer now than last year. I changed my game. I’m a little bit faster.”
A self-described “stay-at-home” defenceman, Valentenko said he is pleased with his showing after three days of rookie camp, but admitted that he has to work on his shot, and his physical play. The most important thing he’ll take away from this camp? The lessons he’s learning from the coaching staff.
“They teach us how to play, how to play the system. I’m learning a little bit more every day.”
Valentenko is part of the organizations’ next wave of blueliners. Several years ago, after identifying defence as a weakness in the Canadiens’ depth, Timmins and the rest of the scouting staff went out and did something about it.
“We’ve tried to improve on that and I think we’ve done a good job of providing an array of different types of defencemen, ” said Timmins. Now we just have to have patience and continue to help these players develop and to move forward. Some started last year, like Valentenko and (Mathieu) Carle. (Yannick) Weber will start this year. Next year we have a big flock of young defenceman possibly coming into our system.”