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Alex Semin and The Curse of Elite Talent

Jeff Gross

Alexander Semin. Other-worldly talented, but without the [insert desirable trait as represented by internal organ(s)] to translate that talent into big-time performances when it matters most. Or so the narrative goes, at least.

As impressive as Semin's skill set is, it's also been something of a curse. As TSN's Scott Cullen wrote not long ago (in the piece from which the title to this post is respectfully borrowed), "Great accomplishments, that only the tiniest percentage ever have a chance to achieve, are not enough when you have seemingly unlimited skills."

Granted, Cullen was referring to Alexei Kovalev, but read over the piece and substitute Semin's name for that of his elder countryman and it's a pretty comfortable fit. Like Kovalev, Semin "tends to get burned in the court of public perception [because] his talent suggest[s] a player capable of being more dominant if he applied himself more consistently." (See? Like a glove.)

And it's this disconnect and disappointment that has had his teammates - current and former - willing to talk, perhaps surprisingly openly and critically, about the Russian winger. Here's a by-no-means-comprehensive rundown of what Semin's teammates have had to say about "the enigma":

"When you see a kid who has more talent than the reigning MVP, you want to see more. He's teasing you. The frustrating thing is he hasn't gotten everything out of his talent. He doesn't have the intangibles Ovie has. With Ovie there's accountability. He's had a bad groin and played through it. Ovie realizes what he has to live up to. So far [Semin] just puts up points." - Olie Kolzig, 12/2008

"I think he needs the corrections and a little more discipline in his game, and he needs to know how important he is to this team to win." - Jason Arnott, 3/2011 (as part of an overwhelmingly positive assessment of Semin, it should be noted)

"Any time he's on the ice he's a threat and can score a goal. It's just a matter of if he wants to push through and score that goal. So we'll see." - Mike Green, 6/2011

"I don’t mind saying Alexander Semin’s name, because he’s one guy who has so much talent, he could easily be the best player in the league, and just for whatever reason, just doesn’t care.

"When you’ve got a guy like that, you need him to be your best player, or one of your best players, and when he doesn't show up, you almost get the sense that he wants to be back in Russia. That’s tough to win when you’ve got a guy like that who’s supposed to be your best player not being your best player, or one of your best players." - Matt Bradley, 8/2011

"It's not like [Bradley] went out and told lies.... I don't have anything to say on what Brads said except that he was spot on." - David Steckel, 8/2011

Update (10/1/11): "talked w/Shaone Morrison (sic) 2 wks ago...echoed EVERYTHING said on A. Semin. Says he's more talented than Ovie but doesn't care/try. Never will." "Morrison said the Caps used to take bets on WHEN in Dec Semin would pretend to be injured, and how long into prac he'd lay down on ice" - Tweets (here and here) from WGR550 Buffalo's Jeremy White, 9/30/11

Update (8/21/12): "He didn’t have the best work ethic. ... If Semin wanted to, he could have been the best player in the world, but he doesn’t want to every day. And that’s wrong." - Michal Neuvirth, 8/2012

Update (2/25/13): "Some nights you didn’t even know if [Semin] was gonna come to the rink. It’s tough to play alongside guys like those because you don’t know what you’re gonna get out of ‘em." - Troy Brouwer, 2/25/13

Update (2/26/13): "If he decides to play, he could be the best player in the world." - Braden Holtby, 2/25/13

[Have more examples? Drop 'em in the comments and we'll update the post.]

Point being, Semin is frustrating to fans. He's frustrating to coaches. He's frustrating to teammates. But that frustration comes from being teased with greatness unrealized. Until that changes, expect the talking to continue, and the court of public perception to find Semin guilty.