For most of Semenov's career in his homeland, the thought of playing in the National Hockey League was little more than a far-off dream. The "Cold War" however would thaw over the course of his career, and soon enough Soviet stars would be granted their own form of "Glasnost," and were eventually all given the right to pursue careers in the National Hockey League.
The Edmonton Oilers drafted Semenov 120th overall in 1989, based largely on his play in the 1987 Canada Cup. Centering a dangerous third unit, the lanky Semenov scored twice and set up 5 other goals in 9 contests that September. One television commentator was so impressed with Semenov that he compared the tall and elegant Russian to one of the true legends of the game - Montreal Canadiens's superstar Jean Beliveaus!
Semenov didn't make his NHL debut until the end of the 1989-90 season. He got into two playoff games but otherwise was a spectator as the Edmonton Oilers captured their 5th Stanley Cup in 7 seasons. He would become a regular in Edmonton shortly thereafter. He enjoyed one of his best seasons in the NHL as a member of the Oilers when he notched 20 goals in only 59 games during the 1991-92 season. Unfortunately for Oilers fans, Semenov was claimed by the Tampa Bay Lightning during the 1992 NHL Expansion Draft.
Semenov played only 13 games with the Lightning before he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks for Dave Capuano and a fourth round draft pick. Semenov played really well in Vancouver. He had the large task of replacing his former Soviet national team teammate Igor Larionov as the Canucks skilled pivot. He showed he was capable of the task, and looked well playing with Pavel Bure at times.
Anatoli's stay in Vancouver wasn't long, as he only finished the season in the beautiful west coast city. The Anaheim Mighty Ducks quickly snatched him up in the 1993 Expansion draft. The center enjoyed parts of two seasons with the Ducks, before he was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Milos Holan. Semenov had a strong 1995 playoffs with the Flyers, but otherwise was reduced to a journeyman's role in the "City of Brotherly Love" until a trade returned him Anaheim late in the 1996 season.
The Buffalo Sabres gave Anatoli a one year contract for the 1996-97 season. Like so many other members of the Sabres that year, Semenov's season was decimated by injuries. He got into only 25 games, scoring 2 goals and 6 points to end his career on a very quiet note. He played only 8 more games after that season, all with a team by the name of Avtomobillst Yekaterinburg back in Russia.
Semenov left the NHL with a career record of 362 games played, 68 goals and 126 assists for 194 points. Anyone who saw him play in Russia or in his earlier years in the NHL will remember Semenov as a skilled and intelligent skater who set up his teammates nicely. He had a funny NHL career in that he was routinely sought after by NHL teams to replace an injured top line center, and he often filled in nicely although briefly. When the player returned completely healthy, he had trouble finding much ice time and was reduced to a 3rd or 4th line role. He never complained and was always willing to do whatever his coaches asked of him.
Currently, Anatoli Semenov has been involved in numerous hockey-related ventures such as developing ice skating rinks in conjunction with some former Soviet star players and the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Dimitri Yushkevich. Semenov is also involved with a hockey school in his adopted hometown of sunny Anaheim, California.