The Alex Alexeyev Quandry: An Atypical Development Path And Underwhelming Season Leaves Questions Regarding Next Step

He was highly touted, and rightfully so. The 6’-4” left-handed defenseman from St. Petersburg, Russia, demonstrated all the skills necessary for being a top-level defensemen in the NHL. As a result, the Washington Capitals drafted Alex Alexeyev in the first round (#31 overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.

Alexeyev first arrived in North America after being selected by the Red Deer Rebels in the 2016 Canadian Hockey League’s import draft. He played three seasons in Red Deer, showing steady development and improvement in his North American game each season. Alexeyev would endure several significant injuries during his three seasons with the Rebels, but his level of play was ready for the next step in his development process.

AHL Rookie Season

Alexeyev graduated from the WHL and next began his professional hockey career in Hershey, starting with the 2019-20 season. Like any rookie, his learning curve was pretty steep at the beginning of his rookie campaign and included numerous miscues on the backend.

A particularly memorable blunder from early in his rookie season was committed with then co-rookie and now NHL starter, Martin Fehervary. The two rookies were defending a rush together and parted like the Red Sea, allowing the opposing player to enter the zone unfettered and skate directly in for the score.

The miscommunication was humorous and particularly memorable because the mistake was typical for a rookie pairing, and you knew at the time the two would eventually be playing together in the NHL. We are already half way to that realization.

In the end, improvement and sound development was evident throughout Alexeyev’s rookie season. He learned the ropes and actually turned in a fairly decent campaign. Defensively, there were still a few backend blunders, but those were steadily dissipating and his time on the penalty kill was showing excellent progress. Offensively, Alexeyev was fine, turning in three goals and 18 assists in 58 games played before the pandemic shut things down in March of 2020.

The KHL Detour

Alexeyev was set to return to Hershey for his sophomore season in the fall of 2020 when the pandemic shut down the start of all North American hockey seasons. As a result, the Capitals loaned Alexeyev to Salavat Yuleav Ufa in the KHL.

Playing for Salavat was a fortunate detour in the development of Alexeyev’s game. He learned to defend against some of the best forwards in the world, and became very dependable at his position.

His adaptation and education was a slow process in the beginning, as he was often a healthy scratch. But as the season progressed Alexeyev worked his way up to the top pairing and was arguably Salavat’s best defensemen by the time their season ended.

Salvat eventually trusted Alexeyev on both both sides, starting mid-way through the season, and Alexeyev excelled on both sides. He would eventually win rookie of the week twice in January and rookie of the month honors along the way.

Alexeyev was also fortunate that the coaching staff at Salavat was excellent, working with him on all aspects of being a professional defenseman.

“The coaches first looked closely at me. Sometimes they played me less and other times played me more. I didn’t come out in all situations. When I got used to things, they began to trust me more,” said Alexeyev in an interview with the KHL website.

Alexeyev said that his Head Coach, Tomi Lamsa, referred to his style of play as “a modern hybrid style.”

“They [coaching staff] gives me freedom. Yes, they tell me when it is necessary to play more strictly on defense and when it is easier to play in the attacking zone – not to invent. I myself already understand that if there is some kind of intensity, then you need to play in a simple way.”

Alexeyev would ultimately report to Hershey at the conclusion of Salavat’s postseason run, where he continued his solid play on the backend. Offensively, he recorded two goals and seven assists in just 12 games played.

When the curtain fell on the 2020-21 season Alexeyev had the second-best development year out of all of the Capitals prospects. (Second to Aliaksei Protas who also played in the KHL and Hershey, but added play in international games for Belarus).

2021-22 AHL Season

The 2021-22 season was to be Alexeyev’s breakout season, but that simply hasn’t happened. His season has been underwhelming at best. In fact, one could easily argue his game has regressed from the high-level state-of-play that he demonstrated in the KHL and at the tail end of the 2021-22 AHL season.

Defensively, the blunders have returned. Offensively, he has just one goal and 18 assists in 65 games played so far this season. Far less production than his rookie season.

The reason for the downturn could be any number of things. The usual sophomore slump? The change in coaching in Hershey? A need for inspiration or a challenge? It’s difficult to accurately pinpoint the issue(s). In the end, the season has been a step back in Alexeyev’s development process.

The Next Step

After watching a good number of his games in the KHL and all of his games with the Bears this season and in his AHL rookie season in 2019-20, there is evidence that Alexeyev, who will turn 23 in November, plays to the level of competition and rises to the challenges placed in front of him. He does what needs to be done and succeeds at doing so.

The current situation in Hershey is not extending the same challenges and development opportunities as he once experienced. Simply put, the developmental value has reached its full potential. Alexeyev had a better campaign in his rookie season than he did in the AHL this season, and that’s not an indication of optimal development.

You never want to “rush” a prospect’s development. There are just too many real-world examples of how that could go wrong. Heck, the mere suggestion of expediting a player’s development can send some fans into convulsions. But that’s not the case for Alexeyev. He’s already proven he can rise to the top in any scenario.

The situation is anything but unusual. Jonas Siegenthaler may be a decent comparable. His time in Hershey was met with plenty of ups and downs and underwhelming play. Some fans in Hershey were actually glad to see him go when he finally made the leap to the NHL. But in hindsight, he likely maxed out his own personal development potential in the AHL. Siegenthaler is now turning out to be one of the better blueliners in the entire NHL.

So what’s the best move for Alexeyev come September? It’s time the Capitals give him a 7th or 8th defenseman role to start the Capitals 2022-23 campaign (Lucas Johansen will have something to say about it). Then work with him, challenge him and give him time to prove he’s learning quickly and ease him into the lineup.

The “no rushing” folks will not like hearing that, and normally I’m on their side when it comes to indecision regarding prospect planning and assignments. Just not in this case. Putting Alexeyev in a challenging spot is the next best step for the first-rounder. That challenge is the NHL.

The Capitals will likely jettison Justin Schultz and Michal Kempny this off-season – two very experienced defensemen. And Alex Alexeyev will not be able to fill the void alone. But the signing of a seasoned veteran this off-season in addition to elevating the youthful Alexeyev would be the best next step for both Alexeyev and the Capitals.

By Jon Sorensen

Alex Alexeyev on Life In The KHL
The Honors Keep Coming for Alex Alexeyev – KHL Rookie of Month And Euro HockeyTour
Alexander Alexeyev: Interview on KHL Russian Site

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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12 Responses to The Alex Alexeyev Quandry: An Atypical Development Path And Underwhelming Season Leaves Questions Regarding Next Step

  1. Anonymous says:

    I agree with this. He’s already proven he can succeed at the high level (KHL). I don’t see much value in him returning to Hershey, and I think he’s proven he can succeed at any level.

    • Anonymous says:

      Also agree. The time is right, and there is not much to gain in AHL. Either elevate to NHL or give him another season in KHL. Or new coaches in Hershey if he has to return.

  2. Marky says:

    Your plan is fair. I think that Johansen should be given 3rd pairing with TVR to start the season and see how he handles it because I think he’s ready. Alexeyev might in fact need one more year in Hershey just like Jo had to go thru and I wonder if all the nagging injuries are the reason he can’t get a footing.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      That’s a fair assessment, Marky, and certainly plausible. Johansen could very well win the spot over Alexeyev. I would love to see that battle in September.

      • Marky says:

        I do think Alex can ‘turn the corner’ and just think it might take another year…;)

        • Jon Sorensen says:

          That’s fair, but I think he turned that corner in the KHL last season, becoming one of the best defenders in the league. The AHL has nothing more to offer him with regards to development.

  3. novafyre says:

    We baby too much and do not challenge enough. I see this in public schools as well where we decide on a standard track and push those below to reach that track but don’t push kids to go beyond it and seldom reward those who do. My kids split — one went to a GT elementary school but the other had his chance, he turned it down. He went to his local school, was bored and didn’t fulfill his potential. When each got to middle school, the roles were reversed. The one who was pushed in ES was now bored and the one who coasted now had to work. I wasn’t happy with either process.

    Alex was pushed more in the KHL. If the AHL can’t provide that push, he will never progress. Move him to the NHL, loan him to the KHL, or cut him loose. Like Siggy, let some other team benefit.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Great read and information.

  5. steven says:

    With Schultz, Kempny and possibly Irwin gone after this season there will be 2 or 3 slots open on the D and after next season Orlov, Jenson and TVR are all UFA’s. So to bring up 2 promising rookies would not be a problem in terms of taking jobs. And with Fehervary being a RFA next year ne will need to be paid. maybe they sign Irwin to a small contract and go with 2 rookies next season.

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