- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 18, 2004

Washington Capitals rookie Alexander Semin has four goals in his last 10 games. His offensively challenged teammates have combined for 13. But that doesn’t mean that the flashy, 20-year-old Russian left wing is guaranteed much ice time.

“Alex has phenomenal individual skills; his skating ability, his darting in and out and his shooting ability are a lot like Pavel Bure’s,” said coach Glen Hanlon, a Vancouver assistant when the Russian Rocket broke in with the Canucks in 1991.

“But when Alex doesn’t do the things we expect all of our players to be accountable for, he’s not going to play. When you’re feeling pressure in the defensive zone, that’s not the time to try to stickhandle past a guy closing on you. Alex has made huge strides, but there’s an element of trust. It’s like dealing with your children. When are you going to allow them to cross the street without holding your hand? We’re still holding Alex’s hand.”

That also has been true when it comes to Semin learning English. Russian defenseman Sergei Gonchar shepherded the rookie around the first two months of the season before Semin spent a month in Europe playing in the World Junior Championships.

Semin, Washington’s top pick in the 2002 draft, returned in January with his mother, and after Gonchar was traded two weeks ago, he has relied on Lithuanian-born center Dainius Zubrus.

“I’m feeling more comfortable in the room,” Semin said with Zubrus interpreting. “I understand some of the jokes. And Glen tells me many of the same things over and over, so I understand them. I’m more comfortable than I was when the season started. I’m a little more confident that I can beat players one-on-one. I’m trying to work hard on defense. Offense is easier because you can beat just one guy and make a play. Defense is harder.”

Hanlon and some of the players said Semin knows more English than he lets on, and the rookie’s teammates are generally forgiving of his adjustment struggles.

“Everyone forgets that Alex just turned 20,” defenseman Brendan Witt said. “Gonchy didn’t speak a lick the first year he was here [1995], but he learned from watching TV. Alex will be all right. He’s a good kid.”

Goalie Olie Kolzig, who remembers the franchise’s all-time leading scorer Peter Bondra as a Czech rookie with virtually no English and an undisciplined offensive arsenal in 1990, said the 6-foot, 181-pound Semin is a natural goal scorer.

“Alex is as talented a kid as I’ve seen come through here,” Kolzig said. “Everything he does is smooth. He just knows where the holes are. He still has to grasp some concepts like taking shorter shifts and get adapted to the culture and the language, but he has a personality where he’s part of the team. I can see him being a prankster. I enjoy him. He’s not the quiet guy that Gonchy is. I’m looking forward to seeing him develop.”

Notes — Tonight’s crowd is likely to give Jaromir Jagr a rude reception in his first game at MCI Center since being traded to the New York Rangers on Jan.23. A five-time NHL scoring champion with Pittsburgh, Jagr was never as effective for the Caps, whom he didn’t lead to even a playoff series victory during his 21/2 seasons.

“They’re going to boo me a lot,” Jagr said yesterday. “I understand that. But that’s OK. I’m glad I’m here and I don’t really care. Of course, it’s sad when you’re going to go to a city where you played and they’re going to hate you. But that’s the way it is. It happened to me in Pittsburgh. The only advantage is: there aren’t going to be a lot of fans there. So there aren’t going to be that many boos. Or maybe they’re just going to show up to boo me.”

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