The Montreal Canadiens opened their training camp on Thursday. Yuri Alexandrov is one name that stands out among invitees to this year’s camp. Alexandrov is a 28-year-old, six-foot-one-inch, 187 pound, left-handed defenceman and a former 2006 second round pick of the Boston Bruins.
Alexandrov played only one season in North America, back in 2010-2011 with the Providence Bruins. Despite being signed to a two-year entry level contract, he returned to his native Russia after only playing the one season with the baby Bruins. He has played in the KHL ever since.
In his 333 KHL games, Alexandrov has amassed 82 points. He is known as a very reliable defenceman in all three zones playing the international game.
Alexandrov has an excellent first pass and can skate fluidly. His strength is his passing game having the ability to see the play develop in front of him and make solid choices when quarterbacking the transition game. He plays a style reminiscent to that of former Canadien and Maple Leaf legend Tomas Kaberle. However, Alexandrov is not as polished nor as effective as Kaberle when at his peak.
Marc Bergevin saw fit to offer Alexandrov an NHL professional try-out (PTO), the only player to receive one this season from the Canadiens. While the Canadiens are missing NHL defense regulars Shea Weber, Andrei Markov and Alexei Emelin from camp Alexandrov will receive more opportunity. He is capable of providing support for Nathan Beaulieu as an added puck mover during camp.
Once the World Cup of Hockey participants return, what, if any, opportunity remains for Alexandrov?
With a solid showing, it’s possible that Alexandrov could unseat players already signed to contracts such as Marc Barberio or Zach Redmond. But to do so, he would truly need to show progression in his game. To demonstrate that progression, Alexandrov must show that he can be effective on the smaller ice surface.
He has the talent level to be a third pairing defenceman in the NHL, who can also take second wave shifts on the power-play. However, there is a serious logjam of NHL-capable bottom pairing defenceman in Montreal. So what’s left for Alexandrov?
One look at the depth of the left side of the blueline in Montreal’s system and we can see there is a glaring need for left-handed veteran defencemen, especially puck movers who are defensively responsible. With an incredible camp, is it possible for Alexandrov to take the seventh or eighth slot in Montreal and be used sparingly through the season?
In my opinion, the likeliest scenario for Alexandrov is that he earns a two-way deal much like Barberio did last season. Yuri could begin as a top-pairing defenseman in St. John’s playing the role of a mentor while being ready for a call-up due to an injury in Montreal. Is it worthwhile for the 28-year-old Russian to leave the KHL for that scenario? If so, a path could be open for his return to the North-American game and eventually the NHL.
The worst case scenario is that the Canadiens keep the competition level high in the early days in camp while three of their top-6 defencemen are playing key roles at the World Cup of Hockey. For Alexandrov, it provides him a stage to showcase his talent for the Canadiens or other NHL teams who are on the lookout for inexpensive depth on their bluelines.