Alexander Nikulin, a product of Molot Prikamve’s hockey school, was the Ottawa Senators’ 4th round pick (122 overall) in 2004. He was eligible for the 2003 draft, however opted not to enter in order to give himself an extra year of development. In 2004, Nikulin was rated No. 72 among European skaters by CSB at the midterm and shot up to 40th on the final rankings. Senators chief scout Frank Jay had publicly said that the team’s Russian scout had Nikulin pegged as the fourth best Russian player available in the draft, high praise considering Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin were consensus 1-2 overall picks in the draft. Nikulin signed an entry-level contract with Ottawa and will be present at training camp for the 2007-08 season.
2003-04: Unable to crack CSKA Moscow’s main lineup, Nikulin was sent down to the second division to play with CSKA 2. There, he centered the team’s second line and also spent some time as team Captain when Anton Dubinin, the former Captain, was recalled. A broken wrist kept him out of the lineup for a month mid-way through the season, but he picked up right where he left off upon his return, finishing the season at a point-per-game pace with 17 goals, 17 assists in 34 games. Nikulin also skated with Russia’s U20 squad at the Canada Cup Challenge. He was held off the score sheet in five games. At the 2004 NHL Draft, he was selected in the 4th round by the Ottawa Senators, 122nd overall.
<font face=”Arial”>2004-05: Nikulin started the season with CSKA 2, playing in 5 games and scoring 2 points. He was recalled to CSKA Moscow in the Russian Super League and finished with 3 goals and 3 assists in 16 contests. Nikulin’s strong play at the elite level secured his position with CSKA’s main team. Nikulin also participated in the World Junior Championships, where he scored one goal in 6 games. At the 4 Nations Tournament, Nikulin posted 3 points in 3 games and was a physical force totaling 16 penalty minutes.
2005-06: Nikulin spent the entire season with CSKA Moscow in the Russian Super League. His 22 points (10 goals, 12 assists) were good enough for __ on the team. In the 51 matches he played in, Nikulin also picked up 22 penalty minutes and was a +4. During the playoffs, he scored one goal in 7 games, while going –2. Nikulin also participated in the Sweden Games and Kariala Cup.
2006-07: Another season with CSKA Moscow allowed Nikulin to steadily improve. In 33 games, he managed 16 points and was a +4. CSKA made a deep playoff run going to the semifinals where they fell to Kazan in four games. In 12 playoff games, Nikulin registered 4 goals and 2 assists.
2008-09: In November, Nikulin was dealt from the Senators to the Phoenix Coyotes for Drew Fata.
Despite being a technically sound skater, Nikulin does need to improve on his top speed and overall acceleration. His wrist shot is his most effective weapon as it is precise with a quick deceptive release. He tends to use his wrist far more often than any other shot. Nikulin has very soft hands and is a good stickhandler. He is capable of handling the puck in high traffic and pressure areas. Another one of Nikulin’s strengths is his passing ability. He makes accurate, soft passes and is terrific at transitioning the puck with a first pass out of the zone. His above average vision allows him to create scoring opportunities for his linemates.
Nikulin is also responsible and dependable in the defensive zone. His lateral movement is excellent and he is often the first backchecker to help out the defense. He anticipates the play very well and is effective at getting his stick in passing and shooting lanes. Nikulin possesses a decent sized frame, but is not by any means a physical player. In fact, he is considered to be soft, opting to poke check rather than use his body. He is willing to take a hit and he does not avoid traffic, but can be pushed around easily by more physical players. Nikulin has terrific work ethic and battles hard along the boards, but his disinterest in physical play makes him ineffective at times.
Nikulin signed an entry-level contract with the Ottawa Senators in 2007. He has since been dealt to the Phoenix Coyotes. Nikulin has the skills to develop into a second line player, but needs to improve on his physical play.