Alexander Khokhlachev was once projected as an early first round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. His rare combination of offensive skill and tremendous defensive zone prowess have often drawn comparisons to Detroit Red Wings’ superstar pivot Pavel Datsyuk. However, teams were weary of taking Khokhlachev early in the draft simply due to the “Russian Factor” that’s wreaked havoc on quite a few NHL general managers over the past few years. Teams tend to be afraid of the unpredictability that comes with drafting a Russian player. Questions of work ethic and commitment, enigmatic play styles and the threat of returning to the homeland to skate in the Kontinental Hockey League are most commonly associated with Russian draftees. The most notable cases of such have been Nikita Filatov (Columbus), Nikolay Zherdev (Columbus), Alexander Radulov (Nashville) or most recently Evgeni Kuznetsov (Washington). By no means am I telling you that this is the case with all Russian players, as many have found long-term homes in the NHL and do not suffer from any of the aforementioned stigmas (see: Datsyuk, Evgeni Malkin, Ilya Bryzgalov, Alex Ovechkin, Ilya Kovalchuk).
When the 40th pick rolled around in the 2011 Entry Draft, the Boston Bruins — fresh off a Stanley Cup championship — opted to take a calculated risk in choosing the Moscow native with the 10th selection in the second round. While General Manager Peter Chiarelli‘s gamble may indeed pay off in the end, it won’t be in the 2012-’13 season. Speculation had run rampant in Boston for the past couple of weeks about the possibility of “KoKo” leaving North America this fall and was finally confirmed early Monday morning. The former Windsor Spitfire had made his decision to return home official, inking a one-year deal with the KHL’s HC Spartak Moscow.
“Alexander Khokhlachev officially signed a deal with @spartak_hc He will wear jersey #89″ – HC Spartak Moscow Official Twitter
After scoring 59 goals and adding 86 assists in 123 OHL games, the skilled centerman doesn’t have much left to prove at the junior hockey level. In the KHL, the blue-chip teenager will have the chance to skate against men in a league with a considerably higher level of competition. A year overseas will undoubtedly help Khokhlachev’s development and should help round out his overall game.
“We’ve sort of charted out a path for where he will be. I think he’s intrigued with playing at higher levels. You know, I think you saw in the World Juniors that when he plays with better players, I think his game is elevated. I think training camp last year did the same thing. He got better and better from the rookie games to the exhibition games. He has that skill level to be able to do that.” – Don Sweeney
With KoKo’s father, Igor Khokhlachev, taking over as general manager of HC Spartak, the eighteen-year-old is expected to have a full time spot on the big club — as opposed to being relegated to the KHL’s junior level — despite his young age.
At rookie development camp last week, Chiarelli expressed his complete support of Khokhlachev’s decision after announcing that the two sides had agreed to a three-year entry level contract.
“What we decided with Koko was that it’s a unique set of circumstances with his dad being the manager there, and saying, ‘Look it’s one year and then back to North America’. He felt it was right for him, and at the end of the day, we went along with him on this. We’re going to support him on it.” — Peter Chiarelli
After one season in Russia, Khokhlachev is expected to return to North America and begin his career with the Bruins in 2013-’14.
Bruins Ink Hanson To One-Year, Two-Way Contract
Outside of locking up the majority of their own free agents, Chiarelli and the Bruins have been relatively quiet since the market opened up last Sunday. For the first time this summer, the Bruins reached outside of the organization and announced a minor signing on Monday, inking Hershey Bears’ center Christian Hanson – son of Dave Hanson from SlapShot fame – to a one-year, two-way contract. The single season pact will pay Hanson $600,000 at the NHL level and $105,000 for service in the American Hockey League (Providence).
In 42 career NHL games – all with Toronto – the 26-year-old pivot recorded three goals and six assists. The Venetia, Pennsylvania native was an AHL all-star in 2010 while posting a 31-point campaign (12G/19A) with the Toronto Marlies.
If nothing else, the signing provides the Bruins with depth in the system and another forward capable of stepping into an NHL role if injuries are to strike. Hanson may compete for a bottom-six roster spot at training camp in September, but will likely start the 2012-’13 season with the P-Bruins. Standing at 6’4″ and weighing close to 230 pounds, Hanson will add an element of size that was noticeably absent from the Providence lineup last season.
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About the Author: Boston Bruins writer for Hockey Independent. Contributor to the New England Hockey Journal. Have written for The Hockey Guys and SB Nation Boston. Follow me on Twitter @_BWoodward or shoot me an email at BWoodward.HI@gmail.com.