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First-round pick close to signing

Agent is "confident'' the Lightning is nearing a deal with Russian forward Nikita Alexeev.

By DAMIAN CRISTODERO

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 18, 2001


There is good news and bad news concerning Nikita Alexeev, the Lightning's first-round pick in last year's draft.

Tampa Bay apparently is close to signing the 6-foot-5, 215-pound Russian wing, who might have a spot on next season's team. Alexeev, however, might miss the rest of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs with what is suspected to be a dislocated kneecap.

Alexeev, 19, the No. 8 overall pick who plays juniors for the Erie Otters, was injured in Saturday night's victory against Brampton in the Western Conference semifinals. His agent, Scott Norton, said Tuesday's MRI exam showed "nothing torn."

"This is not a final assessment, but they don't believe it's serious," Norton said.

Norton said Alexeev is expected to be out 2-3 weeks, and in a best-case scenario could return for the OHL finals if the Otters get that far. Norton said no long-term problems are anticipated.

Alexeev's contract negotiations apparently are on the fast track.

"I'll just say I'm pretty confident," Norton said of a signing. "I think it would happen relatively soon."

Lightning assistant general manager and chief negotiator Jay Feaster was out of town on a scouting assignment and could not be reached for comment.

Alexeev had a noteworthy regular season with 31 goals, 41 assists and a plus-37 in 64 games. He had six goals, seven assists and was plus-7 in 10 playoff games as Erie reached the conference final.

OHL coaches voted Alexeev the conference's third-best skater.

The Lightning desperately needs size and scoring punch up front. General manager Rick Dudley has said Alexeev could make the team next season.

"We're pretty optimistic," Norton said. "As a two-way player, his game is beyond his years. Some questioned his goal-scoring ability. I think that was answered this year."

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