(Born October 10, 1972) -- Oleksiy Mykolaiovych were the first and middle names of a very good Buffalo Sabres defenseman. Writers and editors were very happy when Mr. Zhitnik decided to go by “Alexei.”
Zhitnik had already spent a season in Russian hockey when he was drafted by the Kings in 1991. After one more year across the pond, Zhitnik arrived in California and made the Kings immediately. At the age of 20, he was an immediate contributor to the Los Angeles lineup and helped them reach the Stanley Cup finals in 1993.
A year and one half later, the Kings needed help at goaltender and through Grant Fuhr - an old pal of Wayne Gretzky’s - would be just the guy to help. The Sabres’ price tag for Fuhr was high, but the Kings paid it. Zhitnik became a Sabre that involved five other players including Charlie Huddy and Philippe Boucher.
Zhitnik stayed a Sabre through 2004. He contributed some offense, but mostly he was a defensive workhorse. Zhitnik played a lot of minutes, night after night, often against opponents’ best lines.
He left to join the Islanders in 2005, and also played with Philadelphia and Atlanta. Zhitnik finished his career in 2010 after playing two years in Moscow.
--- Budd Bailey