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2020 Raw Charge Top 25 Under 25: #8 Alex Volkov

A very important season is ahead for the Russian forward.

2020 NHL Stanley Cup Final - Game Six Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

After three years in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization, Alex Volkov finally made his debut in the NHL. It wasn’t probably the one he expected, as Volkov wasn’t able to establish a roster spot for himself and played only in nine regular season, but his season ended on a major note – he appeared in the Stanley Cup Final game and earned a chance to lift the Cup over his head. This should give him enough confidence and motivation to push for a roster spot for the next season.

Alex Volkov’s entry-level contract expired after last season. The team isn’t in a hurry with an extension and likely wants to solve their high-priority deals first, such as re-signing Anthony Cirelli and Erik Cernak. Alex Volkov’s contract could have waited until the start of training camp, as he obviously won’t cost a lot for the lightning. Given that Mitchell Stephens, a player who appeared in more NHL games than Volkov and made a bigger impact, received a contract with $737,500 AAV earlier this offseason, i doubt Volkov will get more than his teammate, even it means a slight salary cut. I’d also expect a short deal, maybe even a one-year contract for a young Russian forward.

Alex Volkov had a pretty long path to the NHL. Before being drafted in 2017, he was mostly an unknown player, who never played for the national team and wasn’t very known even in Russia. After arriving to North America, he made an immediate impact during the training camp, impressing coaching staff and scouts. During all three training camps, Volkov had been one of the last cuts and had a chance to make his NHL debut earlier, but for some reason it didn’t play well for him. According to his own words, Volkov was a main candidate to be called up during the 2018-19 season, but after a poor performance at the start of the AHL season, the Lightning chose Mathieu Joseph instead. Before the 2019-20 regular season he got an injury in an exhibition game against the Florida Panthers and his debut was postponed for a couple of more months.

Volkov made his debut with the Lightning in last year’s November and even went on a two-game trip to Sweden. The coaching staff trusted him enough to put on the top line with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, but despite playing with such big names, Volkov ended his first last season’s stretch with the Lightning without points. His line mostly struggled offensively and was outplayed by their opponents. In his second call-up, Volkov was moved to lower lines and finally scored his first point.

In nine overall games last regular season, Volkov scored just one primary assist, played around ten minutes per game. According to Natural Stat Trick at 5-on-5 he recorded 50.00 CF% and 41.47 xGF%, given that he played with talents like Kucherov or Stamkos, this does raise a question if he’s an NHL-ready player. Another concern is his physicality: Volkov struggled in puck battles and was constantly beaten alongside the boards. For a 23-year old player this could be a big issue, as he’s already not in the age, when a player could easily improve his conditions during the offseason training.

As many of his coaches noted, Volkov’s a very competitive player at practice. It helped him to make his surprise appearance in the sixth game of the Stanley Cup Final last September, despite playing the last official game more than six month ago. He didn’t play a lot in this game but looked solid overall and drew a penalty which led to a Stanley Cup clinching power play goal by Brayden Point.

Another issue might be his mindset. The reason of his slow starts is that Volkov is putting a lot of pressure on himself after being cut from the training camps, or after being sent down to the AHL. The Syracuse Crunch coach Ben Groulx mentioned it in his interview for the Athletic last year [The Athletic]

“He had a very tough start, nothing was easy for him,” Crunch coach Ben Groulx said. “He questioned himself a lot when he got sent down, and I know he was very down on himself and that lasted a little bit. But I think (Volkov) was playing his best hockey the last 2-3 games (in Syracuse).

In our voting Volkov ended up on the eight place for a second year in a row. Comparing to the last year voting, the writers wasn’t very impressed with his last year’s performance, putting him at the 11th place, while the readers were much higher on him, giving Volkov couple of top-5 votes. Personally i placed Alex Volkov on the seventh place: even given all the issues i mentioned above, i’d still put him higher than Alex Barré-Boulet or Taylor Raddysh, as he’s much closer to the NHL than those players in my opinion.

After two very identical 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons in the AHL, when Volkov scored 23 goal each season, his goal-scoring rate has slightly decreased last year. In a shortened season due to COVID-19 pandemic and two NHL call-ups, Alex Volkov scored only nine goals in 46 games, however it was compensated with an increased assist rate: he recorded 21 assists in 46 games and almost reached the amount of assists he scored in previous two full seasons in the AHL.

During three seasons in the AHL, Volkov developed as a well-rounded player with good skating, hands and offensive talents, who’s also effective in forechecking and has a decent puckmoving skills. Coach Ben Groulx tried him in many combinations, on basically every line. This ability could help him to find a spot on the Lightning roster. Such plays as he showed before his first NHL point, where he beat a Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty, giving Alex Killorn space to make goal shot, indicates that he has enough top-six potential, however his consistency might be an issue.

Where Volkov will start the new season, mostly depends on how the Lightning will deal with Cirelli and Cernak’s contracts. Re-signing those players might lead to losing some players such as Tyler Johnson or Alex Killorn, which will open some roster spots on the Lightning roster and Volkov, alongside with Mathieu Joseph and potentially other players like Ross Colton, is one of the frontrunners to make the team.

If the Lightning decide to re-sign Volkov before the new season, it’s going to be a very important year for a young Russian forward. At the age of 23 not many European players agree to stay in the AHL, rather leaving to their Home Country. Volkov has also mentioned early that he could ask for a trade if he won’t be able to break the Lightning roster.