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Alexander Semin off to great start with Caps on line with Kris Beech

Except in this case the last name is Semin, not Ovechkin.

Odds are Ovechkin, with three goals and three assists, will be back on top in the near future but for now 22-year-old Alexander Semin leads the Caps with seven goals and two assists in six games.

"His hands are like silk, they're unbelievable," linemate Kris Beech said of Semin. "He's really something to see. He's got some sweet hands."

We'll have to take Beech's word for it because Semin himself speaks very little English. His goal-scoring has done the talking so far.

Caps GM George McPhee remembers when he first saw Semin up close during an NHL rookie tournament four years ago in Traverse City, Mich.

"I remember calling back to ownership and saying: 'We've got a pretty good player here. This guy can score. He's got hands as good as anyone,"' McPhee said Friday from Washington. "It would have been nice to have him here last year."

Instead, McPhee spent the whole year mounting legal challenges to get Semin out of Russia. After a rookie NHL season in 2003-04 that saw Semin put up 10 goals and 12 assists in 52 games, he went back to Russia and played there the last two seasons even though he was under contract with the Caps.

A court finally sided with the Caps late last season and Semin came back to North America this year.

"We never really had a problem with the player, he's a good kid," said McPhee. "The issues were agent-generated in the past and it's not the first time a player got some bad advice from an agent."

He was worth the wait. Now the Caps have two decent scoring lines instead of just one.

"Last year basically most teams felt that if they stopped Ovechkin they stopped Washington, and it was pretty much true," said McPhee. "We knew in rebuilding here that we needed better players and people that could score.

"We knew that Semin could do that. He's a tremendous player with great scoring ability and playmaking ability."

Beech (five points in six games) has been a nice fit between Semin and Richard Zednik.

"It's been good so far," Beech said Friday. "We're a good combination of skill and strength and speed. It's going well so far and hopefully we can keep it going."

For Beech, this may finally be his coming-out party in the NHL after a long struggle to make it. A first-round pick, seventh overall, by the Caps in the 1999 NHL entry draft, the 25-year-old from Salmon Arm, B.C., spent most of the last five years in the AHL and bounced around from Washington, to Pittsburgh, to Nashville and then back to Washington.

"I was definitely excited to come back," said Beech, who was re-acquired in the Brendan Witt deal at the March trade deadline. "I felt like I was coming home in a way. It's been great. I'm getting a chance to play."

McPhee first dealt Beech away in July 2001 in the Jaromir Jagr blockbuster. He kept tabs on him ever since.

"Kris Beech was someone that we felt deserved a good, long look after the way he played last year in (AHL) Hershey and help that club with a championship there," said McPhee. "And just seeing with what's going on with the new NHL, the need for guys that think the game well and move the puck well, he's probably better suited to the game now than he's ever been.

"He's really learned to compete and he trains hard now," added McPhee. "Sometimes it takes a while for young guys to learn how to do that."

No one wants to be labelled a first-round bust so the early success this season feels good for Beech, a former WHL star with the Calgary Hitmen.

"I just kept at it, I never lost sight of my goal," said Beech, who signed a US$700,000, one-year deal. "I had some pretty good coaching in the years I was playing in the minors and I've physically matured. I feel confident right now."

Beech's role is clear with Semin. Set him up.

"He's definitely going to pull the trigger, that's his first option even though he's an incredible passer," said Beech. "My game is that I try to move the puck and go to the net. If we can work off each other that way we should be successful."

The language barrier hasn't been too much of a problem.

"He does all right," said Beech. "He understands more than he speaks from what I've gathered. I just talk slowly. He's a smart kid."

Beech, meanwhile, is becoming a good sleeper pick in hockey pools.

"I already have one buddy who has me in his pool," he said with a laugh.


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