‘Smart hockey player’ prospect Nikita Alexandrov makes NHL debut

St. Louis Blues prospect Nikita Alexandrov was preparing for an American Hockey League game in Hartford, Connecticut on Wednesday night when he got the news he was waiting for.

Alexandrov, 22, made his NHL debut Thursday night when the Blues played the San Jose Sharks at Enterprise Center.

“As a kid you dream of playing in the NHL and finally getting that chance, it’s unreal,” Alexandrov said after Thursday morning practice. “I had a good (training) camp and felt good about the way I played during pre-season. Coming down to the AHL, I was playing with a lot of confidence and that helped me improve my game a lot.”

The Blues’ second-round draft pick in 2019, 6-foot-1, 177-pound Alexandrov came close to making the roster after a strong performance in the preseason. In nine games this season with the AHL’s Springfield Thunderbirds, he has four goals and four assists for eight points. A year ago, he had 12 goals and 18 assists in 67 regular season games with Springfield and followed that up with two goals and six assists in 18 playoff games.

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“He came to camp and showed us a lot,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “He has very good details (in his game). He can play center or wing and he’s a competitive guy who plays a heavy game. … He’s physical, he’s involved and he has good skills with the puck.

“The thing for me is that he’s a smart hockey player.

Due to the short deadline, Alexandrov said his family will not be able to travel to St. Louis for his NHL debut. “But they will be able to watch on TV,” he said.

Alexandrov hopes to contribute right away.

“Obviously I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself,” he said. “I just want to come in and play my game. I want to be confident and help the team in any way I can.

Leivo returns

Josh Leivo was also back in the Blues roster on Thursday. The 29-year-old winger made the opening day roster but has not produced a point in three NHL games this season. He was assigned to Springfield on Oct. 29 and scored a hat trick in his first AHL game this season. He started Thursday on a line with captain Ryan O’Reilly.

“He’s a guy who scored in the American League; he’s good around the net and has a decent shot,” Berube said ahead of Thursday’s game. “He has a good stick, a big stick. O’Reilly’s game is low and I think Leivo can be a good complementary player for him in those tight areas.

Bortuzzo to IR; Tucker is called

Early Thursday, the Blues recalled defenseman Tyler Tucker from Springfield. The move came after veteran defender Robert Bortuzzo suffered an upper-body injury that sent him to injured reserve. Bortuzzo, 33, was injured in Tuesday’s game in Philadelphia against the Flyers.

That night, Bortuzzo played his 500th NHL game.

Tucker, 22, is 6-1 and weighs 204 pounds. He was selected by the Blues in the seventh round of the 2018 draft and has one goal, six assists and a plus-7 rating in 11 games with Springfield this season.

Tucker played Wednesday night for Springfield and was unavailable to play Thursday’s game.

“He’s a big guy, a younger version of Bortuzzo,” Berube said Thursday morning. “He’s going to mix things up, play tough minutes and try to keep it pretty straightforward with the puck. He plays a good team game and he is a young man who knows how to manage.

Calle Rosen replaced Bortuzzo in the lineup on Thursday.

Forward Logan Brown (upper body) is on the disabled list and forward Jake Neighbors has been sent to Springfield.

“The situation we find ourselves in is hard for a child; I don’t think it’s a good situation,” Berube said when asked about Neighbours, who had scored one goal in 11 games to start this season. “Even though he’s probably upset that he’s not here, that’s the kind of kid he is; he’s got a lot of character — he’s in a place where he can play a lot of minutes in all situations and get a lot of puck touches.

“He will come back. He is too good a player not to be here.

Berube also mentioned that winger Alexey Toropchenko will miss Thursday’s game. In 11 games this season, Toropchenko has scored one goal.

“I think he needs a reset,” the coach said. “He missed playing in the exhibition season (after having shoulder surgery in the offseason) and I don’t feel like he’s played his game enough yet. a reset will be good for him and we’ll get him back there.

“I think he’s going to be a good player for us, like he was last year. (But) he’s a bit caught in the middle for me now. He’s playing a bit too carefully and not aggressive enough for me right now.

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