Inscrutable. Enigmatic. Mysterious. The clichés attached to Alexander Semin are as much his own work as they are the media's. He carries on conversations in English with teammates and staff members, but conducted his first two – and so far only – interviews of training camp with his agent as interpreter. If it's hard for outsiders to figure him out, that's largely his choice.

This isn't unusual among Russian players, to the point where all of them often seem to be painted with the same very broad brush of inscrutability. Even among those who speak very good English, there can be a tendency to avoid the media, although for every Semin there's a Danny Markov, who didn't care how good his English was or wasn't.

With Semin, perhaps because of the occasionally erratic nature of his performances with the Washington Capitals, his off-ice persona and on-ice play became conflated. Some teammates criticized his effort and commitment while others commended it. He became a polarizing figure among fans, with fervent detractors and strident defenders alike.

"A lot of it's probably due to maybe a lack of communication," said Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Joe Corvo, who played with Semin three seasons ago in Washington. "Guys just don't understand him because he's not a real talkative guy, whether that's due to him not knowing English or just the type of guy he is. When called upon, especially last year when people were questioning his dedication, in the playoffs he was diving in front of shooters and blocking shots. He's just an electric player. He's awesome."