The Washington Capitals have an impressive arsenal of left-handed blueliners, and that includes 2018 first-rounder Alex Alexeyev.
Alexeyev, known for his strong skating, playmaking and willingness to battle for the puck, took a major step forward this past season in what proved to be a roller coaster of a year. He started overseas when Washington loaned him to the KHL’s Salavat Yulaev Ufa amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Alexeyev logged several minutes on the top-4 and occasionally played on the third and first pairings.
However, it was after the new year that the 21-year-old started to find his game. Not only did he start logging more ice time, but there was a new confidence, a new maturity in his game. He started to get more involved offensively, jumping up in the rush more and taking more shots on goal. He also didn’t shy away from taking matters into his own hands and having faith in his ability in the offensive zone.
January was Alexeyev’s breakout month, as he dished seven points in 11 games, including a three-game goal streak. His play earned him a couple of KHL Rookie of the Week honors and Rookie of the Month. He also got to represent Russia in the Third Stage of the Euro Hockey Tour.
On the other side of the puck, Alexeyev proved to take solid care of the puck while also being aggressive on the backcheck. His performance earned him more ice time and responsibility, and through 55 games, he registered 93 blocks and finished the season as a plus-3.
— KHL (@khl_eng) January 30, 2021
Alexeyev also got postseason experience under his belt, suiting up for nine Gagarin Cup playoff games. He struggled slightly and was a minus-3, but he finished with eight shots, 11 hits and 23 blocks. The 6-foot-4 blueliner also started to embrace his physical side with 11 hits, including six over his last two games.
Following the KHL season, Alexeyev returned to North America to close out the season with the AHL’s Hershey Bears. He picked up right where he left off, registering two goals, nine points, 23 shots and a plus-11 rating through 12 games.
This past season proved to be a vital one for the young Russian’s career, but when will he be ready to make the NHL jump. To put it simply: it’s complicated, and there are still ways to go and questions that need to be answered. Right now, the Capitals are stacked when it comes to the left side.
Projected Caps pairings for 2020-21
Of course, this could completely change based on the expansion draft, where the Kraken could very well take one of the Capitals’ eligible defensemen.
Beyond the NHL lineup, Tobias Geisser is also working toward the big club. Bobby Nardella remains on the rise and just earned a two-year contract extension that turns one-way in his second year. Meanwhile, the team could still consider bringing back pending free agents Zdeno Chara, Paul LaDue and Cameron Schilling. Washington also has to address RFA Lucas Johansen, another LHD prospect seeking a promotion.
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In his exit interview, general manager Brian MacLellan appeared more open to the Capitals becoming a younger team. He also placed a lot of confidence in Fehervary making the transition to the big club next year.
However, an offseason of uncertainty could lead to more young d-men get their shot at the big club. If Alexeyev can hit the ground running in training camp, expect him to make some serious noise. Not to mention, if the depth chart changes depending on the offseason, he could emerge as a dark horse for a roster spot. Still, one more year in Hershey wouldn’t hurt either.
Overall, Alexeyev has made great strides and had a breakthrough this year. He’s a strong skater who plays well in both ends. He can also serve as a catalyst on offense and quarterback a power play. There are still areas of his play that need to improve, including positioning and turnovers. But regardless, he’s on the right track and poised to be a difference-maker at the highest level. It’s just a matter of when, not if.