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Meet the Russian prospects

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 29, 2001


One problem limiting the popularity of the NHL draft is the relative anonymity of its top picks.

A small site is working to bridge the gap between American hockey teams and future stars from half a world away. Russianprospects.com, launched in December, is a must for Lightning fans given the team's penchant for prospects from the former Soviet Union.

Tampa Bay's top picks the past two years -- Alexander Svitov, the third pick last weekend, and Nikita Alexeev, last year's first-rounder -- each has a page, complete with background information, analysis and key statistics.

The site even quotes passages from Dostoyevsky -- no, not The Brothers Karamazov but Russian hockey expert Maxim Dostoyevsky, whose thoughts are a refreshing break from the hypefest that follows a top-three pick in football or basketball.

"Svitov is not going to blow people out with his stick handling or spinoramas," he tells the Web site. "He has flashy moves, but he's sometimes shy to display them." He went on to say that "if (Svitov) goes lower than #3 spot, it would be a robbery."

For fans looking for action shots of the top pick, one picture shows what looks to be a solid right hook. The site warns that Svitov was made out to be a "scapegoat for Russia's poor performance" at this year's under-20 World Junior Championships. He drew a five-minute penalty for checking the Swedish captain into the boards, it says, and the resulting power play helped Sweden score the winning goal.

Alexeev, who played with the Erie Otters of the OHL last season, is described as "a hulking 6-5 and 212-pounder, now with a lot of confidence to complement his great talent and speed."

There's more to the site than first-round picks. Its news page had a note on Lightning prospect Pavel Sedov getting a broken hand and concussion in a car accident in Russia this month, and there's a page devoted to Eduard Pershin, whom the Lightning selected in the fifth round in 1995.

The site's creator, Moscow-born Eugene Belashchenko, is a 21-year-old who moved to the United States in 1991 and graduated from the University of Virginia in May. He said he launched the site after noticing a lack of coverage for Russian players on other sites.

"I went to sites like hockeysfuture.com, and there wasn't much about the Russian players," he said by phone. "All the profiles for Russians were either blank or just statistics, and I was sure there was more to these guys than just that."

Belashchenko translates stories in Russian newspapers and gets firsthand reports from seven correspondents, allowing himself and other fans here to follow the sport he grew up with in Moscow.

As for Svitov, Belashchenko said the prospect's last name is pronounced sih-VEET-ov, and he expects big things from the 18-year-old center.

"He's very aggressive, very mature for his age," said Belashchenko, whose site crashed briefly last weekend due to heavy traffic during the draft. "Mentally, he's very prepared. And some people have labeled him as a policeman or an enforcer, but he knows he can do much more than that."

TAKING CARE OF BIDNESS: If you're wondering why more Rays fans weren't at the Trop last weekend, it might be because they were at eBay.com, posting those Fred McGriff bobblehead dolls. More than 30 were available online by Monday, with most bidding at between $20 and $40.

TID-BYTES: Give Seattle the nod as baseball's most computer-savvy city. In online All-Star balloting, no Mariner ranks lower than third at his position, and outfield sensation Ichiro Suzuki and teammate Edgar Martinez rank first and second in the AL. ... Keyshawn.com is not registered to the Bucs receiver but a 13-year-old named Shawn who collects keys. He promises a photo gallery soon, "so other people can see them."

- If you have a question or comment about the Internet or a site to suggest, e-mail staff writer Greg Auman at aumanac1@aol.com.

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