From Russia with Khokhlachev
Spitfires GM says prospect will be a very good NHL draft pick
Saturday, 05.28.2011 / 12:00 AM / News
By Bill Roose - Managing Editor | DetroitRedWings.com
Each week leading up to the June draft, DetroitRedWings.com will feature a top prospect that they believe will likely be available late in the first round.
Today's feature: ALEXANDER KHOKHLACHEV, C, WINDSOR (OHL)
DETROIT – It was only a year ago that a baby-faced Alexander Khokhlachev had his image plastered throughout downtown Moscow.
A smooth two-way center, Khokhlachev was featured in an advertising campaign to help promote the Kontinental Hockey League’s new junior league.
“We saw the stuff that he was on,” said Warren Rychel, general manager of the Windsor Spitfires. “We saw the bus stops and how he had become the poster boy for the junior league back home.
“But I think he knew that if he was going to chase his dream that he would have to come to Canada and the Ontario league. It was a good pick for us, obviously, after the Memorial Cup championship when we lost a lot of quality centers.”
Khokhlachev, 17, has filled a void for the Spitfires, finishing third in the OHL rookie scoring race with 34 goals and 42 assists in 67 games. A hard-working center, he made the commitment to North America where he has worked on sharpening his physical skills against bigger bodies than he would have gone up against back home.
“I think the biggest improvement is his awareness, and engaging physically,” said Rychel, who selected the Russian with the 23rd pick in the 2010 CHL import draft. “At first, coming from Europe with the big rinks, he’s not going to get hit a lot. Now, coming to North America and the OHL he got hit a lot more. He got used to it and he was giving out hits in the end, as much as he was taking them.”
Already an offensive-minded forward, the decision to come to the OHL has also helped Khokhlachev improve his defensive responsibilities.
“We really got on him early, around Christmas, to bear down in his own end,” Rychel said. “Obviously, he had no idea how to play in his own end in the North American style, and how to become a good two-way player. We were really hard on him in that matter, and he really took a turn for the better after Christmas.
“He was taking more pride in the face-off circle and making sure that he marked his man in his own end. He was really good for us and really turned into a very good two-way player, and I think someone is going to get a very good pick whether it’s near the end of the first round or in the middle.”
The Hockey News has Khokhlachev ranked as the No. 13 best prospect in the NHL draft, which will take place June 24-25 in St. Paul, Minn. The Red Wings have the No. 24 selection in the first round.
At 5-foot-10 and 188 pounds, Khokhlachev will never be mistaken for the reincarnation of Eric Lindros or Mario Lemieux, but Rychel does liken him to a pair of former Red Wings’ greats.
“He was pretty consistent all year long. He scores hard goals,” he said. “He scores goals 10-feet in front of the net; he goes to the hard areas to score goals. He’s equally as good of a goal-scorer as he is a passer. Where you look at (Igor) Larionov as a good passer and (Sergei) Fedorov was more of a scorer. This guy is equally good at being both.”
Before jumping to Canada, Khokhlachev led the Russian Under-17 team with five goals and eight assists in the 2010 World Championships in Timmins, Ontario. He also played two seasons with Spartak Moscow, where he scored 25 goals with 41 assists in 81 games.
While he has assimilated quite quickly into the North American culture, Rychel said that he still needs to fine-tune his skating, which should come with time.
“He was a little bit choppy, but he has lengthened it out,” said Rychel, referring to Khokhlachev’s skating. “He’s only a young kid and he has two more years in junior hockey before he turns pro, so it’s only going to get better.
“Coming over as a younger Russian, he was very schooled in English and he just got along with everyone. He was used to everything right away, and he just wanted to get along with everybody and that led to his quick start. He’s just a boy who enjoys coming to the rink every day. Always in a pretty good mood and comes from a very nice family, and a guy that the kids like to be around.”