ARLINGTON, Va. — Alexander Alexeyev is keenly aware expectations are high for him this season.
During Washington Capitals development camp in June, coach Todd Reirden called the 19-year-old prospect one of the Capitals’ top two young defensemen, and director of player development Steve Richmond said the No. 31 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft could play in the NHL this season.
But Alexeyev vows he won’t rest on such thoughts and praise.
“It’s pretty special,” Alexeyev said at camp. “I should be proud of myself, but I still have to work hard. It doesn’t mean I can calm down. Still have to work hard, get better every day, get stronger, and try to be the best.”
Alexeyev’s story nearly took a dark turn in March when he was taken off the ice on a stretcher following a knee-on-knee collision playing for Red Deer in the Western Hockey League.
“I was sitting right here, and it happened across the ice and I thought for sure it was gone,” Richmond said of Alexeyev’s left knee. “I thought it was lights out for him. It was pretty scary.”
Alexeyev ended up in a knee brace and his stellar season was over. He finished with 43 points (10 goals, 33 assists) in 49 games as a top-two defenseman, and has 101 points (21 goals, 80 assists) in 135 games in three WHL seasons.
After rehabbing off the ice with Hershey of the American Hockey League, Alexeyev returned to his home in St. Petersburg, Russia, where he began skating about three weeks before development camp.
Video: Capitals draft D Alexander Alexeyev No. 31
“My legs feel awesome, 100 percent,” he said. “I feel like I can do a lot, everything I used to do before the injury.”
Alexeyev’s play during camp backed that up; he capped an impressive week with an assist during a scrimmage on the final day.
“Between Alexeyev and [Martin] Fehervary (No. 46 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft), I think those two guys have clearly identified themselves as our top young defensemen back there,” Reirden said.
Alexeyev (6-foot-4, 196 pounds) is a physical defenseman with a hard shot. He will begin the season with Hershey.
“He was one of the bigger, stronger guys in junior and now he’s just going to be a guy maybe on the weaker side because he’s still a little boy playing against men, so I think the biggest thing is the speed of the game and how fast things happen versus juniors,” Richmond said.
“It will be a big step. It always is. But we’re patient. We have time for him. We don’t have to rush him.”
Alexeyevsaid he is looking forward to returning to Hershey.
“I’m really excited to play there,” he said. “I already know everything there, where there’s good steaks. I know people there, so it’s a great place. … You know, just work hard as much as I can. Do my best. Get better every day and we’ll see what happens.”