Sunday, July 25, 2010

Boston Bruins Prospect Series: #9 Yuri Alexandrov

Yuri Alexandrov, D
6-0, 185
June 24, 1988
Shoots: Left
Boston's 2nd choice, 37th overall in 2006
Signing status: Signed through 2012

Talent Analysis

Physical: Lacks ideal size for a defenseman at the NHL level with average height and below average strength at this stage of his development. Overall conditioning needs work prior to the start of rookie and main camps in September. Good, not great skater. Accelerates out of the blocks well, but does not possess the kind of straight-line speed (forwards or backwards) or the lateral quickness to rate him as a "plus" skater. Very good passer; makes a crisp first pass and can transition the play from defense to the attack very well with his ability to put the puck on a player's tape and spring the jail break. Excellent in puck distribution, especially on the power play, where time and space is opened up in the offensive zone. Shot is only average; lacks the kind of power and heaviness that distinguishes other top point shooters from their peers. Positional defensive game is solid; understands where he needs to be and has a quick stick to clog up passing lanes or create turnovers if the puck carrier gets within his reach. Physical game is below average; will use his body to leverage players off the puck, but does not make big open ice hits and has problems moving big, strong power forwards from the front of his net.

Intangibles: Smart and experienced; has been playing against men since age 17, so no player in Boston's system has done more at a high level than Alexandrov has. Relies on his hockey IQ to make plays at both ends of the ice, though is more of an offensive presence/puck-moving defender than he is a shutdown presence. Was named captain of the Russian WJC team at age 19, so he does bring good immeasurables like leadership to the mix. Even though his English skills are limited, he showed a willingness to try and talk and seemed to fit in well with the other prospects at camp, making an effort to overcome the cultural barrier; seems to have an impressive attitude that could carry him far. Showed none of a sense of entitlement that other Russians who have preceded him to Boston have.

Boston Bruins 2010 Development Camp assessment:
Overall, Alexandrov's performance in Wilmington was a disappointment, but the camp itself did not play to his strengths and the format did not allow the experienced Russian pro to show off what he does best. His conditioning was not what it should have been, and Assistant GM Don Sweeney made mention of that. Alexandrov spent a lot of time hunched over, gathering his breath in between drills. During the drills themselves, he seemed to have trouble picking them up and executing at as high a level as others, likely because of the challenge of communication. His shot isn;t anything to write home about, and he wasn't able to do much with it, either from the outside or in close when conducting drills. He showed flashes of what he can do in the scrimmages, but didn't do a lot to stand out either positively or negatively. Given his draft standing and the fact that he's been a solid performer in Russia's top pro league (the Kontinental Hockey League since 2008) for the past five seasons, I can't indict him for his mediocre/up and down showing this month.

On talent alone, Alexandrov has the look of a second-pairing defender and low-end No. 3 or solid No. 4. However, the fact that he's evolved steadily with his production over the past three years and has put up statistics comparable to several top offensive Russian d-men (Sergei Zubov and Sergei Gonchar) when they were near the same age, leads to believe that he has the hockey sense and intangibles to possibly become a solid No. 2 at the NHL level if he's willing to put in the time to develop in the AHL and gain more strength and experience with the North American style. After having seen him at camp, Alexandrov does not appear to be the kind of finished product who can immediately jump in and lay claim to a roster spot in Boston in a few months, but he should get an extended look in the preseason by virtue of his age and experience. It will be interesting to see how he looks in game situations.

“Obviously, there’s a language barrier there and [there's] cultural differences. Once he’s on the ice, he feels most comfortable and that’s a good thing. But there’ll be systematic things and nuances he’ll have to figure out. We’ve tried to attack that communication and tried to get better at it because there is a gap there. And the onus falls on him a little bit to understand that and immerse himself in that.”- Bruins Assistant GM Don Sweeney on Alexandrov, Wilmington, Mass.; July 10, 2010

“You can tell when the game starts, his positional play, his understanding and his stick positioning is very, very good,” Sweeney said. “You can tell that’s been taught and built into his game. When you play against bigger and stronger players, you have to develop those techniques and he’s done that."- Bruins Assistant GM Don Sweeney on Alexandrov, Wilmington, Mass.; July 10, 2010

“To be honest with you, and something we’re communicating with him, I didn’t think he was in quite as good a shape as he was the year before so that’s got to be something he’ll have to attack and address between now and September to realize that he continues to push forward. I would tell all the kids that. I’m not going to single him out for any particular reason, except that the facts are what they are.”- Don Sweeney, July 10, 2010

The Final Word

Alexandrov is an intriguing prospect. Like Ryan Button, he brings some real positive traits to the table, but at the same time, whether those can translate into a top-three player or better at the highest level remains to be seen. The Bruins have neglected drafting and developing high-end talents on defense for some time now, and that shows in the raw projectability of their two "best" prospects at the position (and you can certainly argue whether David Warsofsky grades out ahead of either Button or Alexandrov, and in making that case, it underscores the dearth of talent on 'D'). Alexandrov can't be truly judged until we see where he stands in preseason action and then likely at the AHL level, where he should at least begin the 10-11 campaign even if he does see some time in Boston this season at some point. He's not a player who is really going to jump out at you if you're expecting grand things from him, but if you look closely at Alexandrov, you'll see the high-end passing and smart decision-making. Unfortunately, there simply wasn't enough of that kind of a condition at camp, so he's fallen off in the rankings a bit.

Remember, though, that the B2010DW Bruins prospect list is highly subjective. We're all likely to have differing opinions on these guys and what their potential is, and because I don't have a crystal ball, I'm probably going to get more of these wrong than right. At the end of the day, all of the praise or criticism for these prospects doesn't mean much. And, nobody's going to remember whether Alexandrov was 9th or 2nd on some internet list. If he's able to win an NHL job and become a solid contributor to Boston's fortunes for a long time, that's going to be the payoff. But, Alexandrov has a tough road ahead of him: he's not very strong, doesn't speak the language and his real desire to play in the NHL will be tested because unless he has some kind of monster performance in September, it doesn't appear that he's going to be able to beat out the established (and might I say much higher paid) options ahead of him. Playing for Rob Murray in Providence will benefit him, but he'll need to check the ego at the door and be ready to combat the homesickness that could occur as Rhode Island is a long way from Cherepovets (which is the sister city of my hometown of Hudson, N.H., btw. My close childhood friend, Tim, traveled as a teenager to Cherepovets in 1988 to play a U.S.-U.S.S.R. basketball tournament as part of that community outreach, btw). Until Alexandrov proves himself, there's a skepticism factor with him. We watched Sergei Zinovjev crash and burn as a Boston Bruin six years ago because he wasn't willing to pay his dues and found it much easier to return to Russia and the good life rather than work at the flaws in his game.

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