Nikita Alexeev, 19, is expected to make the team next season.
By KEVIN KELLY
© St. Petersburg Times, published April 25, 2001
In what promises to be a busy off-season filled with contract negotiations, the Lightning got off to a solid start Tuesday when its top pick from the 2000 draft signed a three-year rookie contract.
Right wing Nikita Alexeev, whom the Lightning chose with the eighth overall pick, will make $1,075,000 a year plus performance-based bonuses.
"I'm excited," said Alexeev, who was in St. Louis rehabilitating a bruised right knee. "It's another step toward making it to the NHL. I'll be very excited to be there and prove myself and get a job."
Team officials figure the 19-year-old, who has played the past three seasons with the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League, will have an impact with the Lightning next season.
General manager Rick Dudley lauds Alexeev not only for his size (6 feet 5, 215 pounds), but for the talent he displayed with Erie and last fall during his first training camp with the Lightning.
"This kid's a very bright kid and a very hard-working kid, and I think he'll make the adjustment," Dudley said. "There's no 100 percents in this world, but I think he'll make it fairly quickly. There's no doubt he's going to play."
Tampa Bay chose Alexeev, a Murmansk, Russia, native, after a 53-point season with Erie.
He impressed team officials so much during training camp, they pondered keeping him in Tampa before deciding to send him back to Erie for further development.
"Looking back upon it, with the year he had in Erie and the unfortunate season in Tampa, it probably was the best thing," said Scott Norton, Alexeev's Chicago-based agent.
Alexeev had 31 goals and 41 assists in 61 regular-season games and was named the league's third-best skater by Western Conference coaches this season. He ranked third on the team with six goals and 13 points in 10 playoff games before Tuesday.
"My game is being a playmaker, making goals and good assists and finishing my checks," Alexeev said. "Pretty much I just want to be the full package. But I have to work on a bunch of things."
A bruised right knee cap, suffered in an April 14 playoff game, has kept him off the ice. Alexeev expected to rejoin his teammates today.
"I don't think anybody could ever question his abilities and the package he brings," Dudley said. "Most of the people now tell us -- and we kind of smile when they do -- what a great pick he was. To be honest with you, we never had a doubt."
Both sides said negotiations included give and take.
"I don't want to say it ever got into a tough area, but there had to be some pushing and some convincing," Norton said. "There were some days that we wondered if it was going to get done."
Dudley said fans should not expect Alexeev to put up numbers next season similar to center Brad Richards'. Richards was the league's top-scoring rookie this season.
"They're totally different players," he said. "But when you think of a guy like (Fredrik) Modin and an Alexeev eventually on the same line as bookends, that's a lot to deal with from the other team's standpoint."
Tampa Bay must now refocus on the 16 players, including captain Vinny Lecavalier, and eight minor-leaguers whose contracts have expired.
"We expect some of them will be tough," Dudley said. "We think it's less than five that will be real tough negotiations. We're working on it."
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