Roundtable: Has Nikita Alexeev proved himself worthy of the 8th overall draft selection?
No, he has not, but the jury’s still out and will probably be out for a couple more years.
A big, potential power-forward like Alexeev will need some time to adjust his game to the NHL level and get more consistent. The developmental track of Fredrik Modin comes to mind.
The fear is Dudley may have drafted a big, fast power defensive-forward, rather than a guy that’s going to pot 30 a year. Alexeev has improved each game he’s played for the Lightning and has taken advantage of increased ice time due to injuries to Modin and
Martin St. Louis. He’s good along the walls and his vision and passing are underrated. He will be a fine complimentary winger, but will never challenge for the Richard Trophy. Most complimentary wingers don’t get drafted top-8, also.
Considering the players with offensive upside taken with 15 picks after Alexeev (players such as Yakubov, and especially Frolov, Nedorost and Kolanos), Alexeev has a long way to go to make Rick Dudley, who perhaps was mesmerized by Alexeev’s physical attributes, look like a genius for taking him so high.
Let me preface this by saying that at the time he was selected, I hated the selection of Nikita Alexeev with a vitriolic passion. From what I had seen he was a player who played soft, and whose offensive production was solely measured in garbage goals or leaching off his linemates. His shot was laughable, with his slapper hitting only in the 70’s on the gun. My preferences laid with Alexei Smirnov, who was selected by the Ducks, and Mikhail Yakubov, who became a Chicago Blackhawks property two picks after Rick Dudley selected Alexeev.
So with that said, and my reputation for only begrudgingly changing my opinions being well known, understand that it is gutwrenching to say, but I honestly believe Rick Dudley made the correct decision. It will take a long time for Alexeev to fully develop, a s it does for most power forward types, but he proved to me from his first training camp that by and large he has the character and the will to improve and grow into his physical gifts and become a good hockey player. This isn’t the Oleg Kvasha clone I thought we drafted. While perhaps Alexeev may not be a brutal open ice hitter, he uses his speed to get into the corners first and then, with his size and strength, he loses very few battles for the puck. I don’t believe his shot will ever allow him to score more than, say, 20 goals, but by grinding it out in the corners and controlling the puck down low, I expect him to rack up perhaps as many as 40 assists a season as a 2nd line winger complimenting players like Vincent Lecavalier.
OK, so he’s a complimentary winger? Complimentary wingers aren’t usually top 10 picks you say? This is normally true but the 2000 draft was considered to be remarkably shallow by comparison with every other draft of the decade with the exceptions of the 1996 and 1999 drafts. Beyond the upper tier of Gaborik, Heatley, and Klesla with the wild card of Rick Dipietro there were two other lukewarm prospects in Torres and Hartnell and then a huge drop off. In truth, yes, there were the Frolovs and Kolanos’ waiting to be plucked in the final third or so of the first round, but they weren’t considered sure things by any means as evidenced by the fact 8 other teams made 10 other selections before Kolanos and Frolov were taken back to back. Nedorost fell six picks behind Alexeev.
The only other logical options at the ninth pick were one of the three other Russians: Yakubov, Smirnov, or Vorobiev. Examine what has happened to those three other players:
1.) Yakubov struggled mightily with only 4th line ice time in Russia and his development was stunted. Only since coming to North America and playing in Canadian juniors has he started to get his career back on track.
2.) Smirnov still has a very poor reputation for being a low character lazy player. He remains in Russia and although his offensive output has improved slightly this year, he has still been more of a disappointment than a joy for the Ducks. I would not have minded swinging for the fences with a high risk/high reward pick like Smirnov, but Dudley thought better of it, and the organization is better off for it.
3.) Vorobiev, the unibrowed Khazak scoring machine, has only recently returned from tearing his knee up. Before that, certainly he was a bluechipper, but the knee injury only adds further credence to questions about Vorobiev’s size and one has to wonder what it will do to his already suspect speed.
Given the choice between three somewhat hit or miss propositions, 2 of which have struggled and 1 of which has already suffered a major injury, Dudley chose to take an almost flawless physical specimen with above average character instead and accept the long term project that is teaching him to be a hockey player. Normally this wouldn’t be a strategy which I would endorse, but when placed in the context of the 2000 draft, a project pick like Alexeev was probably the best way to go.
Nikita Alexeev was highly under-rated post-draft, as former General Manager Rick Dudley’s so called “Russian Fetish” took center stage. Alexeev was considered a reach by Dudley to fulfill his “big-fast” Russian ideal. The biggest knocks to him were his questionable offensive-potential and physical play or lack there of, both significant hits to a young player, especially with the “big, fast” Tampa Bay Lightning.
After a stellar season with the Erie Otters (OHL), doubts towards Alexeev began to subside and the hype began. Searching for an answer, desperate fans looked to Alexeev to fill gaping holes in the Tampa Bay line-up, a big role for a 20-year old to fill. Hopes were reconfirmed after a superb showing at Training Camp last September. Fans saw Alexeev as the answer to Vincent Lecavalier’s line mate woes and were highly disappointed to see him with a press-box view for the first part of the season.
When he was demoted to Springfield (AHL) supporters turned to critics and prior critics got that much louder. His lack of production at the AHL level made many doubt his future with the Tampa Bay organization. When injuries depleted the Lightning line-up, Alexeev was given another chance to prove himself and turned his game up a notch or two. We saw a more refined, more physical player scoring his first NHL goal and playing a much larger role than ever before. He finally proved himself and they all lived happily ever after..
..well not exactly. Despite all the drama and hype encircling Alexeev, the facts still remain. Rick Dudley did take the best player available with the eighth overall selection; Alexeev does have a bright future in the NHL; the Lightning does have huge holes in its roster and Alexeev is not the answer. Labeling him worthy or unworthy at this point in time is impossible. He was the best player available, but he is not going to have an immediate impact on the team. Alexeev is still a project in every sense of the word. He may have been brought in as part of Dudley’s ‘fetish’ but he should eventually develop into key component for Tampa Bay. His size, speed and ability to score from in close should keep him in the line-up for the most part, while he continues to develop and fine tune his skills.