BRANDON — Right wing Alexander Volkov was not a particularly talked-about player in the lead-up to the NHL entry draft. Google his name and you won't find a single front-page result about a hockey player. A mixed martial artist, a painter, a basketball player and a tennis player all appear before the Lightning's second-round draft pick.
Lightning fans have become accustomed to seeing the team select players out of Russia, but even among those who have been keeping an eye on Russian prospects, Volkov's selection might have appeared surprising. Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman, however, had no doubts about the maturity and understanding of the game that the 19-year-old right wing offers.
"I really like his style of play," Yzerman said. "He's a very good skater. He's a good all-around player. For a young man, for a teenager, he really understands the game, the position, the defensive responsibilities, what to do with the puck. I was very impressed for a young guy, we're very optimistic."
Despite Yzerman's praise, Volkov's experience remains limited. At SKA St. Petersburg, he did not make a single appearance for the club's senior team. In 2015-16, Volkov scored 27 points in 42 games in the MHL, Russia's junior league, while in 2016-17 he scored 11 points in 16 MHL games and three points in 15 games at Russia's second level of hockey, the VHL.
Volkov spent much of last season struggling with a broken foot, which caused him to miss a chance to impress fans outside of Russia at the World Junior Championships. Volkov admitted his early selection came as a surprise, but he knew the Lightning saw something it liked in him.
"It was a surprise that I was taken in the second round, but to Tampa it was not a surprise," Volkov said through interpreter Mikhail Sergachev, the Lightning defenseman recently acquired from Montreal in the Jonathan Drouin trade.
"I knew Tampa was always likely. They spoke to me before and after the injury and said they were interested."
Volkov said he feels no pressure because of his earlier-than-expected selection. Instead, he said it presents the perfect opportunity to show the world why Yzerman and the Lightning organization had such belief.
"It's good for me that I got picked in the second round," Volkov said. "It's better to be able to show people what I can do."
Volkov's KHL contract expired in the lead-up to the draft, which gives him the freedom to begin playing in North America right away. That's exactly what the Lightning organization have planned for Volkov, who looks set to play for the AHL's Syracuse Crunch in the upcoming season.
"We're happy he's here, we'll get him right into the AHL right away and watch him go," Yzerman said. "It's a huge adjustment coming from Russia into the AHL, but I really have high hopes."
The adjustment to the AHL will come soon, but — arriving in the United States on Tuesday and appearing at Lightning camp Wednesday — Volkov's current priority is still adjusting to his first week in Tampa.
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"I arrived (Tuesday) evening," Volkov said. "I flew from Russia. It's a long day. I've been getting used to the ice and everything, but overall it's been pretty good. I'm not in the best shape because I just came from overseas, but I will get used to it."
Yzerman announced Thursday afternoon that the Lightning signed Volkov to a three-year, entry-level contract.