St. Petersburg Times
Tampa Bay Lightning

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Alexeev's timing improving

Once turned away after missing a flight, the young forward has progressed since.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 7, 2002

BRANDON -- Ninety minutes, plenty of time.

That was what Nikita Alexeev thought when he got to the Albany, N.Y., airport on Dec. 8 for his flight to Ottawa. But the right wing, called up to the Lightning from the AHL's Springfield Falcons, did not count on long security lines.

The result: Alexeev, who swears he did not oversleep, missed the plane. He flew later, but the damage was done. When Alexeev finally got to Ottawa, where Tampa Bay played that night, coach John Tortorella sent him back to the Falcons.

"I made sure he understood why he had to go back," Tortorella said after Saturday's practice at the Ice Sports Forum. "It was unacceptable. But it was a good lesson learned right away."

Not only did Alexeev make his plane the next time he was called up, he has not given the Lightning any reason to send him back. And Tortorella said Alexeev, 20, has the potential to make a substantial mark in the NHL.

"He's ready to make the step. He's beginning to do it," Tortorella said.

The question, the coach said, is one that also dogged Alexeev in juniors: "Is he ready to play every shift? He needs to be ready at all times."

In 38 games, 31 since his call-up on Jan. 17, Alexeev has four goals and three assists. More important, he is making forceful moves to the net and making defensive reads that show he is more comfortable and confident on the ice.

He is averaging 11:14 of ice time, but 13:43 in his past six games.

The steps are small, but Tortorella said Alexeev's level "keeps going up."

"I'm more experienced now. I know what I can do," Alexeev said. "I'm using my speed and finishing my checks, all the little things that will make me a better player. If I do that and work hard we'll see what's going to happen."

The Lightning's first-round pick, No. 8 overall, in 2000, seems perfectly suited for the NHL.

He is a well-muscled 6 feet 5, 210 pounds with plenty of room to fill out. He has long arms, giving him a great reach with his stick. He is a superb skater and has good offensive instincts.

"He's going to be able to push some people," Tortorella said of next season's training camp. "But just because he's playing now doesn't mean he has a spot on the roster."

A spot on the roster will be good news for the Ronald McDonald House of Tampa Bay, to which Alexeev has pledged $1,000 for every goal he scores.

Alexeev said he spent a good deal of time, from age 5 to 10, in hospitals in his native Russia, fighting stomach ulcers.

"I know what it's like for the kids and their families," Alexeev said. "It makes me feel better. I'm not just here to make money."

From hospital beds to a career that pays $1.075-million a season.

"I guess I'm a little lucky," Alexeev said. "If you want it, you'll get it. It's your dream. You've got to follow it. I'm really happy right now."

Much more than on Dec. 8.

"It was my mistake," he said of the missed flight. "No excuses. Everybody makes mistakes. It's better to learn from your mistakes early."

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