By all rights, Alex Khokhlachev should have a decent shot to crack the NHL roster for the Bruins this season. It remains to be seen if that will happen in training camp, where there are a couple of open roster spots at forward, or during the season as one of the first reserves available for duty.
The 20-year-old finished with 21 goals and 57 points in 65 games along with a plus-11 for the Providence Bruins in the regular season, and then went off in the AHL playoffs, with nine goals and 14 points in just 12 games over the first two rounds. The P-Bruins were eliminated in Game 7 of the second round just like their NHL parent club, but Koko was playing his best hockey of the season at the right time.
So, it’s fair to say that Khokhlachev has high expectations headed into his most important camp with the Black and Gold, and there will be a high level of disappointment if he doesn’t break camp with Boston.
“I think every player’s goal in training camp is to make the team,” said Khokhlachev with a laugh while attending the NHLPA Rookie Showcase last weekend in Toronto. “I had a good year in Providence last year, so I look forward to Boston this year. We’ll see how it goes.
“I’m still improving as a player. I think I’ll be even better next year than I was last year. If you want to play at the NHL level then you want to play against the best players in the world. You need to be stronger, faster and work on all areas of your game.”
Has Khokhlachev paid attention to Boston’s offseason moves with an eye toward his chances of making the NHL club?
“For sure I’ve paid attention,” said Khokhlachev. “But I’m not crazy about it. I wasn’t wishing that Boston signed somebody, or didn’t sign somebody. I just want to be in the best shape I can be for training camp, take advantage of my chances and show them what I can do.”
Will Khokhlachev, who is essentially spurning opportunities in the KHL in order to make it in North America with the Bruins, be disappointed if he doesn’t make the NHL club right out of camp?
“Yeah, for sure. But I don’t want to think that way right now. We’ll see how it goes,” said Khokhlachev. “I will try to be in the best shape I can for training camp and work hard. I don’t want to talk about what’s going to happen at the end of training camp.”
There is one fairly substantial stumbling block for Koko making the roster, however.
The Bruins’ camp openings are expected to be at right wing, and Khokhlachev has been a center for the vast majority of his brief existence in the AHL. It’s the same situation that fellow top prospect Ryan Spooner finds himself in as a lifelong center.
The Bruins would have to be creative to make room for Koko or Spooner – such as moving Gregory Campbell to the wing on the fourth line, or moving one of the two younger players to the wing – but that’s certainly something they’ve been willing to do in the past when necessary. As for Khokhlachev, he simply spent his time this summer back home in Russia doing all of the things to put himself in the best position to succeed in front of the NHL brass.
“I learned a lot last season,” said Khokhlachev. “The coaches helped me a lot last season. It was a really fun year, and a really good year. I learned a lot that improved my game, and will hopefully help me be in Boston this year.”
Improving all of the basics is the most important part for a player that’s keeps on scoring as he develops into what appears to be a sure-fire NHL player. It certainly sounds as if he wants to be in Boston this season.