Habs GM Pierre Gauthier declines to address Yemelin contract rumours

BRATISLAVA, Slovakia – If Montreal Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier has his eye on Russian defenceman Alexei Yemelin at the IIHF World Hockey Championship, he’s not talking about it.

Gauthier attended both quarter-final games at Orange Arena on Thursday, but would neither confirm nor deny reports he’s set to enter negotiations with Yemelin’s agent Don Meehan once the tournament ends.

Meehan has told The Canadian Press contract talks are scheduled to start Tuesday.

The 25-year-old Yemelin was selected in the third round of the 2004 draft by Montreal and has been rumoured to be on the verge of making the jump to North America in the past. However, he’s spent his entire pro career playing in his native Russia.

Yemelin had career highs of 11 goals and 15 assists in 52 KHL games this season for Ak Bars Kazan. He also had 117 minutes in penalties and was plus-16.

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When approached Thursday, Gauthier indicated he preferred to limit his public comments to a handful of press conferences each year while noting he didn’t want to give other NHL teams any insight into his plans.

Under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement, Yemelin can only sign an entry-level deal for one year.

He is known primarily as a defensive defenceman with a nasty streak. At the world championship, he has been used on the fourth defence pair and has not seen time on the power play or in penalty killing.

The Montreal defence could be in for a major overhaul with P.K. Subban and Jaroslav Spacek the only ones currently with a contract for next season. The pending unrestricted free agents include Andrei Markov, Hal Gill, James Wisniewski, Brent Sopel and Paul Mara.

Josh Gorges, Yannick Weber and Alexandre Picard are set to become restricted free agents July 1.