© Times-Herald photo by Matthew Gourlie
Alexei Sleptsov looks for open ice in the Moose Jaw Warriors Black-White scrimmage.
If moving from Moscow to Moose Jaw isn’t the definition of culture shock, it certainly must be close.
Still Alexei Sleptsov seems totally at ease and at home in Moose Jaw — both on the ice and off.
The 17-year-old Russian defenceman is quick to laugh and seems quite comfortable off the ice despite the language barrier. On the ice, his high hockey IQ and his ability to skate have impressed so far at Warriors training camp.
“(On the) first day the (other players) said ‘oh Alex come with us,’” said Sleptsov who indicated he was impressed and a little surprised by how much his new teammates made sure he was included in everything. “It’s a very good team in Moose Jaw.”
Sleptsov should help make the Warriors a better team. Head coach Mike Stothers has been very impressed by the play of Sleptsov so far in the early going.
“He has the best gap of anybody on our team,” said Stothers of Sleptsov’s ability to take away space. “His feet are always moving — laterally, forwards, backwards. He’s like a hovercraft out there. He has a great release. It looks like he might have the potential to be a power play guy for us as well as being a serviceable guy in other areas.
“It he can keep up his gap control, even the fastest guys in the league will have hard a time trying to beat him. The early reports on him have been excellent.”
The Warriors selected Sleptsov in the first round, 19th overall, in the most recent Canadian Hockey League import draft. The product of the Red Army’s team — CSKA Moscow — Sleptsov has been part of Russia’s under-17 and under-18 national team.
He is excited to get a taste of hockey on this side of the Atlantic and get a chance to expressive himself a little more on the ice.
“Red Army coach (said): ‘you must so, da-da-da,’” said Sleptsov making an authoritative chop with his hand on his palm for each “da” to emphasize the strict style at CSKA Moscow. “Red Army, you must play defence. In Moose Jaw I want to attack, to skate.”
Sleptsov will clearly have to take care of matters in his own end as well, but his instincts for jumping into the play and his positioning and ability to read the game have impressed.
“He’s up and he’s in your face and he’s got a great stick. There might be times when he gets beat, but I don’t think it’s going to be as much as you think,” said Stothers of Sleptsov’s risk-taking. “He’s smart. He can read a situation.
“He’s not going to run guys over. He’s not going to put them through the boards, but he’s going to be a very difficult guy to play against.”
Sleptsov body checked the air when trying to describe one of the things he likes about his game. He won’t be a big hitter by WHL standards, but he isn’t afraid to battle for the puck in the corners. He gave as good as he got in Tuesday’s testy rookie game against Swift Current.
Sleptsov’s take on his own game matches that of the Warriors brass. He says his strengths are his skating, his passing and his vision on the ice.
Right now, his ability to speak English isn’t a strength, but he is still far from the worst Russian the Warriors have had in that regard.
Stothers said communicating hasn’t been a big issue so far.
“He understands f-bombs as good as everyone else. He seems to have that down pat,” said Stothers with a smile.
The Warriors are hoping that Sleptsov will soon be joined by their other import draft pick from Moscow Alexander Chirva. The 17-year-old winger is still waiting for visa which is delayed by the Canadian Foreign Service Workers strike.