ST. LOUIS — A few of the extra glowing opinions popping out of coaching camp this previous September and October from Blues coach Craig Berube have been how good of a displaying Nikita Alexandrov had.
So good that these within the media masking the group thought that Alexandrov had made the opening night time roster, which on the time, would have been a transfer no one firstly of camp noticed coming.
However after a 6-0 thumping of the Chicago Blackhawks within the ultimate preseason recreation on Oct. 8, a recreation by which Alexandrov scored his second preseason objective, the middle was assigned to the Springfield Thunderbirds of the American Hockey League.
The adrenaline that had been constructed up took a deep plunge. Or did it?
Alexandrov, 22, as low key as any of the Blues skaters, really took that information effectively.
There was no pouting. There was no anger, at the least not on the floor, however extra dedication than something.
“Each time I acquired the message that I acquired despatched down, clearly that meant that I wasn’t prepared for it but, so I went down with the perspective that I’ve acquired to go down there, work exhausting and play each recreation the proper manner and hold enhancing my power and my weaknesses,” Alexandrov stated.
It was the proper mindset, the proper perspective, though the Burgwedel, Germany native of Russian descent did not like the choice, and rightfully so. In spite of everything, who desires to take a step down if you’ve reached the top?
However Alexandrov would go to Springfield, play massive minutes, in all conditions and is now on his second recall with the Blues down numerous wholesome our bodies.
“If you happen to play like I do within the AHL, a number of minutes, you’ve the move within the recreation and every part,” Alexandrov stated. “Right here, I get restricted minutes however each shift I get on the market, I attempt to carry one hundred pc and attempt to do good issues on the ice and assist the the group and supply some power.”
When he initially was despatched down, Berube wished Alexandrov to give attention to one specific half to the sport.
“Tempo… enjoying with tempo,” Berube stated. “The sport’s quick, you have to play with tempo. That is not all the time simply your skating or something, it is simply enjoying with tempo, understanding the place you have to be, anticipating, all that form of stuff and he does that now Earlier than, he wasn’t doing it. That is a giant a part of the sport. I like his brains on the market, I like his physicality on the market and he is acquired good puck expertise.”
Alexandrov went to Springfield and had 4 objectives and 4 assists in 9 video games earlier than being recalled in early November.
“He is much more assured, much more comfy in his recreation,” stated Blues defenseman Steven Santini, a teammate of Alexandrov’s in Springfield the previous 12 months and a half. “He is beginning to a number of the soiled work too, like final night time going to the online exhausting, he is ending hits on the forecheck. It looks as if he is all the time in the proper place now. He is simply maturing and crediting him for working exhausting and getting higher every single day. … He is enjoying the proper manner.”
Alexandrov, who scored his first NHL objective this previous Saturday in opposition to Jake Allen and the Montreal Canadiens, scored his second objective in three video games on Tuesday when the Blues overcome a 3-1 deficit to knock off Calgary 4-3 in additional time. Every objective was of the soiled, gritty selection, crashing the online and potting a rebound.
It is not the best way Alexandrov was used to enjoying popping out of juniors when he was enjoying with the Charlottetown Islanders earlier than the Blues made him their high decide within the 2019 NHL Draft (second spherical, 62nd general).
Alexandrov averaged 21 objectives and slightly below 49 factors per season with the Islanders in three seasons, then went to Finland to play for KooKoo within the Liiga League. He was counted on as an offensive ahead then.
“After I noticed him out of juniors, I noticed a clean hockey participant,” Berube stated. “Easy. That is what I noticed and I noticed the talent. I noticed the puck expertise and issues like that, however tempo was a giant factor for me.”
However the Blues weren’t all in favour of a one-way participant, they weren’t all in favour of Alexandrov to be a flash-and-dash form of participant. They noticed somebody who may develop into his physique, somebody who may play bodily, forecheck exhausting and play a 200-foot recreation with relentless effort. It was undoubtedly a change.
“Simply form of get used to it,” Alexandrov stated. “Clearly I rating manner totally different objectives than I did in junior. You need to modify. You haven’t any different manner. You have simply acquired to be the participant that they see in you right here.
“It was undoubtedly robust on me. Clearly after I acquired drafted, they advised me instantly what they see in me. It begins from there. I had one 12 months in juniors after which I had one 12 months in Finland, one full 12 months within the AHL final 12 months. That is a number of time to get used to it. They gave me the time. They stayed affected person with me and I am grateful for that.”
Alexandrov performed in 9 video games with the Blues in his debut recall to the NHL and had an help however made himself recognized to not solely the coaches however his teammates. And when he acquired despatched again to Springfield, the sport slowed down for him. He nonetheless leads Springfield in objectives (11) in 22 video games and is fourth in factors (18).
“I simply felt somewhat extra assured in myself,” he stated. “Happening the second time, I feel they actually preferred me earlier than once I was up right here. So I attempted to be assured, play my recreation.”
Now that he is been recalled once more, Alexandrov is discovering it extra naturally with every recreation. He is solely 14 video games into his NHL profession with two objectives and two assists, however he is the anchor of the fourth line proper now together with fellow Russian Alexey Toropchenko, Tyler Pitlick and whoever else could also be their linemate till the Blues get wholesome.
“It is vital that he understands what his function is true now,” Toropchenko stated. “He is enjoying the proper manner, easy recreation, exhausting from forechecks and fairly good.
“It is all about work. In Springfield, he labored his … he labored actually exhausting. Exhausting work pays off. At practices, we keep longer to observe some performs from the corners, some rims, faceoff performs. He acquired higher and higher “If you happen to observe, you’re going to get higher. If you happen to do not do something, you may be in the identical place.”
Likelihood is Alexandrov might be despatched again to Springfield when the Blues get more healthy, nevertheless it will not be as a result of he is not NHL-ready. If something, the extra he performs, the extra he reveals he is certainly turning into NHL-ready. And by accepting the function the coaches right here really feel he is able to embracing at this stage he’ll solely proceed to reinforce his standing.
“Clearly enjoying each recreation such as you’re supposed to assist quite a bit and also you simply get used to it now. It is simply automated,” Alexandrov stated. “I am making an attempt to be a aggressive man, being bodily, knocking guys off the puck. That is my model of recreation. I am simply making an attempt to do the proper issues. Clearly in the event you do the proper issues, you get rewarded.”