Lightning 2000 draft evaluation

By Courtney Wagner

Of the 10 players the Tampa Bay Lightning drafted in 2000 under GM Rick Dudley, three have seen action in the NHL. Between those three players, Nikita Alexeev, Alexander Kharitonov and Thomas Ziegler, they have played 157 NHL regular season games combined, for a draft class average of almost 16 NHL games per pick.

Two of the 10 picks are still prospects for the Lightning –- Alexeev and Eklund.

Nikita Alexeev, LW – 1st round, 8th overall (OHL – Erie Otters)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL Games Played: 81

Tampa Bay’s first round pick in 2000 was Russian Nikita Alexeev at eighth overall. He joined the Lightning in the 2001-02 season for 44 games and had eight points. He returned to the AHL’s Springfield Falcons in the 2002-03 season before rejoining the Lightning for 37 games, where he added another and six points to his NHL totals. He also played 11 playoff games with Tampa Bay that year, contributing with one goal.

Despite being a highly touted pick and the first Russian selected in 2000, the 6’5, 227-pound winger, originally a defenseman, has never shown what scouts thought he was capable of. He was expected to possibly play full-time for the Lightning in the 2003-04 season, but the only action he saw that year was with the AHL Hershey Bears where he was limited to 14 games due to a shoulder injury.

Known as a strong skater who is effective in front of the net, Alexeev needs to play a more aggressive game and improve his play without the puck. He has shown signs that he could be play more of an offensive role, but while back with the Springfield Falcons for 72 games in 2004-05, he only netted 13 goals and 22 points.

Ruslan Zainullin, C – 2nd round, 34th overall (Russia Jr. -Kazan AK-Bars)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Ruslan Zainullin is with his fourth NHL organization, but has never played in an NHL game. After being selected 34th overall by the Lightning, he was involved in a multi-player deal that sent him to the Phoenix Coyotes and Nikolai Khabibulin to the Lightning. Just over a year later Zainullin was sent packing again, this time to the Atlanta Thrashers. Eight months later he was sent to the Calgary Flames for Marc Savard.

Zainullin has failed to live up to his high expectations. He is a good skater with good size at 6’0 and 231 lbs., and has displayed strong playmaking skills, but he lacks consistency. Zainullin’s highest professional totals have come in 2004-05 with Moscow Spartak where he had four goals and nine points in 45 games.

Alexander Kharitonov, RW – 3rd round, 81st overall (Russia – Moscow Dynamo)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 71

In the third round, the Lightning took Alexander Kharitonov 81st overall. He initially saw the most NHL action of any Tampa Bay draft pick in 2000-01, playing in 66 games for the team and scoring 22 points. In the 2001 offseason he was traded to the New York Islanders with Adrian Aucoin for goaltender Mathieu Biron and a second round pick in 2002. In the 2001-02 season Kharitonov played a handful of games for the Islanders, then decided to go back to Russia where he has remained ever since.

Kharitonov is fast and sees the ice well, moving in and out of traffic easily. His size has been a concern at 5’8 and 176 lbs., but he has had success playing for Russia in international competition. He is currently playing for his native country at the 2005 IIHF World Hockey Championships and has two goals in five games and a +6 rating. He also had 15 goals and 29 points in 49 games with Moscow Dynamo in 2004-05.

Johan Hagglund, C – 4th round, 126th overall (Sweden Jr. – MoDo)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Tampa Bay made a trade to snag Johan Hagglund in the fourth round, at 126th overall. A solid playmaker, Hagglund was thought to be a hardworking, smart player who has good hands and skating. He has played with Hammarby in his native Sweden for the last three years, posting less than stellar numbers. In 2004-05 he managed only 14 points and 50 penalty minutes in 43 games.

Pavel Sedov, RW – 5th round, 161st overall (Russia Jr. – Khimik Voskresensk)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Pavel Sedov was selected 161st overall by the Lightning in 2000, but has not seen a lot of ice time professionally. After playing a number of years with Khimik Voskresensk in his native Russia, he joined THK Tver for 26 games in 2003-04, scoring two goals and adding six assists. In 2004-05 he was listed with HK Tver. A solid passer, Sedov was thought to possess good hands and see the ice well, but his future is unlikely with the club.

Aaron Gionet, D – 6th round, 191st overall (WHL – Kamloops Blazers)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Gionet has put up huge penalty minutes, going three consecutive years with over 200. He is known to be a hardworking player, tough and physical in front of the net. Gionet has played the last two seasons with the Pensacola Ice Pilots of the ECHL. In 60 games in 2003-04 he had 11 points and 103 penalty minutes, and this season in 72 games had 10 points and 74 penalty minutes.

Marek Priechodsky, D – 7th round, 222nd overall (Slovakia – HC Slovan Harvard Bratislava)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Marek Priechodsky, a seventh-round selection in 2000, returned to his native Slovakia in 2003-04 after spending two seasons with the Pensacola Ice Pilots. He played 87 games in total in the ECHL and notched only three goals and 17 points in total. A big defenseman at 6’2 and 194 lbs., Priechodsky is now with HC Martimex ZTS Martin and had five points in 10 games and a +10 rating.

Brian Eklund, G – 7th round, 226th overall (NCAA – Brown University)
Status: NHL prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Brian Eklund has not made his NHL debut on the ice yet, but he did serve as the third goalie for the Lightning in 2003-04. Arguably, Eklund may be the best prospect coming out of the 2000 draft for Tampa Bay. At 6’5 and 200 lbs., he covers most of the net and is quick going down and getting up from the butterfly position.

Having caught the attention and enthusiasm of the Lightning organization, he had his best season with the Pensacola Ice Pilots in 2003-04. He was able to set a record for saves in a playoff game with 83, led the ECHL and tied a league record with 38 wins, set league records for saves with 2,194 and minutes with 3,725 and he even managed to score a goal. He was with the Springfield Falcons for the 2004-05 season where he had 14 wins, a 3.01 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. Eklund’s future with the Lightning is dependent on his play and that of the other four netminders currently in the system.

Alexander Polukeev, G – 8th round, 233rd overall (Russia -SKA-2 St. Petersburg)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Tampa Bay selected goaltender Alexander Polukeev in the eighth round of the 2000 draft based upon his potential, but he returned to his native Russia the same year after a poor showing with the Chicago Steel of the USHL. He played for Khimik-SKA Novopolotsk in the Belarussian League this past season.

Thomas Ziegler, C – 9th round, 263rd overall (Swiss – Ambri-Piotta)
Status: NHL bust
NHL Games Played: 5

With their last pick in the 2000 draft, the Lightning selected Thomas Ziegler. In the 2000-01 season he played five scoreless games with the Lightning, and 67 games with the Detroit Vipers of the IHL where he had 27 points. In the 2001-02 season he suited up for three games with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL where he had one point, but returned to play with Bern in his native Switzerland where he has been ever since. His best year was in 2003-04 when he had 12 goals and 34 points in 46 games. Ziegler is currently playing for the Swiss team at the IIHF World Hockey Championships. He is no stranger to the national squad, having played for his country in various international tournaments seven times.

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