Saturday, October 8, 2022

Alexandrov wanted, needed to prove himself, will parlay it into NHL job

2019 second-round pick wasn't on the radar initially, forward 
earned himself job when many didn't give him chance to crack lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Jobs were already scarce when it came for the Blues this season. Nikita Alexandrov didn't care.
Nikita Alexandrov

The 2019 second round pick flew in under the radar this year in training camp, nobody ready to put him in the conversation to win a job out of training camp.

But there he was, playing with the rest of the varsity lineup, the final tuneup for the regular season Saturday afternoon in a 6-0 blitzing of the Chicago Blackhawks at Enterprise Center.

Alexandrov, who played left wing on a line with Noel Acciari and Nathan Walker, was up against it. Did anyone really think he could be on the radar coming out of training camp?

Well, probably nobody outside of the locker room walls. But somewhere along the line, the 6-foot-1, 177-pound forward served notice to the right people. Management took notice and the coaching staff took notice.

"He caught my eye in Traverse City for sure," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I thought he had a good tournament there and was very noticeable, physical player, takes the body. His details jump out to me."

And there you have it. When the head coach takes notice, that's all that matters, and Alexandrov, who scored his second preseason again on a redirection of a Robert Bortuzzo wrist shot/pass in the first period, made sure his name was right in the mix.

"I think just my 200-foot game. I want to be an all-around player. I want to be good defensively and offensively. I put the work in for that. I'm trying to do the little things right and everything's going to come. I thought I was more confident this camp. I gained some weight, felt stronger and that helped me a lot.

"I think that's my second real main camp, so I kind of wanted to put some noise in and my time will come soon. I just had to be ready for that."

Has Alexandrov benefited from Alexey Toropchenko not being available right away due to injury and maybe the recent injury to Logan Brown? Perhaps. But opportunity knocked, and Alexandrov, who had 30 points (12 goals, 18 assists) in 67 regular-season games with Springfield of the American Hockey League last season, pounced when others didn't.

"I'm impressed by his details," Berube said of Alexandrov. "Smart guy, in right positions, checks, does the right things, makes good puck plays. Now, he has growing to do but he's had a real good camp."

When guys like Klim Kostin, Matthew Highmore and Martin Frk (injury), fighting for jobs in camp but didn't make the initial cut -- each went on waivers Friday and assigned to Springfield on Saturday, Alexandrov decided that he would thrust himself up the ladder.

"I think it’s (his) compete level," defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. "He’s not the biggest guy, but he’s tenacious on the puck. I think as a staff, they really appreciate being hard on the puck. They don’t want you to murder guys, but he plays with a bite and an intensity. He competes and he’s done that all camp. He’s made his way to the end, played in the last game, which I’m sure is exciting for him. I thought he was really solid tonight, played with good poise along the walls and that’s a good sign for a young guy when they have a lot of poise coming out of your end and can make plays in that direction."

There's going to come a time -- and soon -- when Toropchenko and Brown return, and it could end Alexandrov's stint with the big club. Or it may not. It'll be up to the 22-year-old to maintain his status with the club, but the Blues know they have a player ready, winning and most importantly, able to perform at this level.

"He’s earned that right to be here," Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "He’s a phenomenal player. Watching him in the preseason, he’s extremely smart. Reads the game very well, makes smart plays, good decisions at the right time. That’s the mature thing to do. So he’s earned it, and again there’s a lot depth in this organization and he’s a very good player.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Nikita Alexandrov (left) scores a goal in a preseason game in Chicago
against the Blackhawks on Sept. 27.

"I thought last training camp, got to see him a bit, too. And I was really impressed with him. And then again first preseason game watching him – just little things that he does. Yeah, it’s definitely impressive."

That's why Alexandrov came into training camp with an open mind. Stand side by side with the rest of the players at the start and try to get ahead of the pack, which he has done.

"Come in here, obviously try to do my best to my best here, work hard here and see where it goes," Alexandrov said. "Just come into camp, I didn't really have a lot of expectations. I know I just had to get in there and make some noise and work hard. That's what happened.

"At the beginning, they already told me how to play here, so I was just trying to build into that with my game and my skill set. It worked pretty well this preseason."

Alexandrov was assigned to Springfield after the game Saturday in what was likely a paper move, since he is waiver-exempt, for injured defenseman Marco Scandella, who will likely go on long-term injured reserve after the opening night roster is turned in.

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