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Svitov has answer: work hard

Alexander Svitov wants to communicate with his English-speaking acquaintances in the worst way.

The Russian youngster tries to engage in small talk, and gets frustrated when he doesn't understand a question or can't come up with the right words to answer.

That is why Svitov, who has been in North America about 16 months, would rather conduct interviews through an interpreter. Some things, though, don't need translation.

The Lightning center made a face when asked if he enjoyed his time with AHL Hamilton in Ontario.

"Bad city," he said.

Asked what he learned while there, he said, "The NHL is aggressive hockey. It's tougher."

What does he have to do to stick with Tampa Bay?

"Work hard," he said.

Good answer because it was Svitov's lack of a consistent competitive streak that, in part, caused his demotion to the minors.

But the No. 3 overall pick of the 2001 draft apparently found his groove during 11 games with the Bulldogs. He was recalled Monday (his 21st birthday) and may be in the lineup tonight against the Kings at the St. Pete Times Forum.

"The reason he is here is because of the reports we got from the minor-league team," Lightning coach John Tortorella said. "That's the first step. We send him down because of this reason as far as competing. Now you have to give him another opportunity because I still feel he is going to be a big part of this."

Tortorella said Svitov has a "tremendous upside."

At 6 feet 3, 217 pounds, he can be difficult to move. And he has the strength to put himself in position to score goals. Against the Canadiens last season, Svitov carried the puck from behind the net, turned in the slot and, with a defender on his back, scored top shelf.

Moments like that were the exception, and Svitov, who came into last season's training camp with huge expectations, scored four goals and had eight points in 63 games. There also were lapses in concentration, and he won just 42.8 percent of his faceoffs.

Things did not improve this season. Svitov reported to camp somewhat out of shape and lost the team's final roster spot to Martin Cibak.

"I wanted to make the team like everybody else so I was disappointed," Svitov said, this time with teammate Dmitry Afanasenkov as interpreter. "The first day I was upset, but then I was okay. I didn't feel good about it but I knew I needed to start working."

Hamilton coach Doug Jarvis said that in Svitov's last seven games "he was probably our best player."

Svitov earned all of his three goals and two assists in those games. He also had 31 penalty minutes.

"At the American League level he was dominant when he came to play," Jarvis said. "He was strong with the puck and didn't give it away. With his strength, at this level, he was able to almost push people aside to recover pucks. And when he had it, he did some good things."

Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk said he saw some of that during last season's playoffs in which Svitov played seven games with zero points.

Andreychuk said Svitov's attitude has been good, and he was attentive in Wednesday's meeting about faceoffs.

"We know he has the skill level," Andreychuk said. "I see a little different personality than when he left a month ago, a little bit more confident. I think he realizes this is where he wants to be, that he's going to do whatever it takes to stay here and that it's not just going to happen. And we need him. We need his size in the lineup."

"When we talk about potential, it's a nice word, but it's filling in the blanks to get to the potential. It's called the process," Tortorella said. "You can force feed, you can do a number of things to speed up that process, but it all depends on the individual you're dealing with."

Svitov, through Afanasenkov, said he is ready to work hard in practices and games.

Asked if he can succeed in the NHL, Svitov said, "Why not?"

No interpretation needed.