Full name: Alexei Nikolaevich Zhitnik
Last Team: Dynamo Moscow (KHL)
Height: 5’11”/180 cm
Weight: 225 lbs/100 kg
Born: October 10, 1972 in Kiev, UKR
Drafted: Selected by the Los Angeles Kings in 4th round (81st overall) of the 1991 Entry Draft
Strengths: Zhitnik was one of the best all-around defencemen of the last two decades. He had great mobility on the ice and usually played against the opposing teams’ top lines. Zhitnik was also a good playmaker and point man on the powerplay.
Weaknesses: Zhitnik’s speed, physical play and defensive reliability had been declining in his last few seasons. When attacking, he was prone to making risky plays leading to turnovers.
Biography: Born in Kiev, Zhitnik developed into a hockey player with the Sokol sports club. At age 18, he drew attention from the NHL due to his speed and strength (Zhitnik was nicknamed “elephant” because of his powerful legs) and was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings. Like the majority of especially talented and promising young hockey players in the Soviet Union, Alexei was transferred to the Central Red Army team in Moscow. He played well enough to play not only at the 1992 World Junior Championship, but also at the Olympics in the same year. At both tournaments, Russia (or CIS, as it was known then) won gold. In the summer of that year, Zhitnik made the shocking transition from Russian life, where foreign jeans were a luxury, to sunny southern California. In his first season in the NHL, Alexei’s team (led by superstar Wayne Gretzky) made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final, but lost to the Montreal Canadiens. After another season and a half in L.A., Zhitnik was traded to the Sabres. He continued to be involved with the national team, being called to represent Russia at the 1996 World Championship (where he was named the tournament’s best defenceman), the 1996 World Cup, and the 1998 Olympics (where Russia won silver). In Buffalo, Zhitnik was one the pillars of the Sabres’ rise in the late 1990s. Alexei once again came short of being a Stanley Cup champion when the Sabres lost to the Dallas Stars in the 1999 playoff finals. In 1999 and 2002, he was invited to play at the NHL All-Star Game. Zhitnik joined fellow stars Ilya Kovalchuk, Alexei Kovalev and Nikolai Khabibulin in playing for Ak Bars Kazan during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. He did not return to the Sabres when the NHL resumed, signing instead with the New York Islanders. Although he was still a reliable minute-eating defenceman, Zhitnik was traded twice in the 2006-07 season, moving from the Islanders to the Flyers to the Thrashers. In 2007, when he was a Flyer, Zhitnik became the first Soviet-born defenseman to play 1000 games in the NHL. In 2008, Atlanta bought out the remaining year of his contract and Alexei returned to Russia to play for Moscow Dynamo. That year, Zhitnik played for the national team for the first time in eight years, captaining Russia at the Karjala Cup tournament of the Euro Hockey Tour. He was named captain of Dynamo for the 2009-10 season. This was Zhitnik’s last season of playing hockey.
|2004-05||Ak Bars Kazan||23||1||8||9||30|
|Totals||USSR/RHL/KHL Reg. Season||256||11||42||53||262|
|Totals||NHL Reg. Season||1085||96||375||471||-53||1268|
National Team Stats: