by Michelle Sarasin || AHL On The Beat Archive
Alexander Khokhlachev is a long way from home.
It is 4,540 miles between Moscow and Providence. Yet he is no stranger when it comes to traveling from place to place to pursue his ultimate goal of making it to the NHL. Over the course of the 2012-13 season, Khokhlachev played in three different leagues: the Kontinental Hockey League, the Ontario Hockey League and the American Hockey League.
At 19 years old, "Koko," as he is referred to by his teammates, was not eligible to be assigned to the AHL at the start of last season. So he played in the KHL, helping the center grow into a stronger and faster player. Playing among men instead of those who are younger than him gave Khokhlachev an edge on the competition that was waiting for him in North America.
Drafted by Boston in the second round of the 2011 NHL entry draft, 40th overall, management of the Bruins as well as Khokhlachev himself felt that, with the lockout, it was important for him to play in the pros elsewhere if he could. Having the opportunity to travel back to Russia and skate for his home team, Spartak Moscow, was an experience that Khokhlachev took advantage of.
"It was really fun," Khokhlachev said. "Last year, with the lockout, a lot of NHL guys played there. It was really exciting and I had a good time there."
A high-scoring, speedy and versatile center playing in the junior OHL for two years, it was essential for Khokhlachev to move on and learn the ways of being a professional. He was able to develop from being a smaller forward to an improved skilled go-to center. He became a player who could score goals while also making the team around him better.
"It was pretty hard and exciting for me, my first taste at pro hockey and I learned a lot from last year," Khokhlachev said.
The time spent playing in his home country included representing Russia in the IIHF Under-20 World Junior Championships. It can be quite a challenge for any young player to compete for their country in an international tournament. However, coming off winning a silver medal in the 2012 tournament, Khokhlachev was more than ready for the international stage.
The 2013 tournament, which took place in Ufa, Russia, was an experience that he will never forget.
"Two years ago we lost in the gold medal game and of course we really wanted to win," Khokhlachev recalled. "But last year we won bronze. Second and third place is pretty good too. Playing for my country is an amazing time. Every country competes to be the best so it was an unreal and exciting experience."
During the second half of the North American 2012-13 season, Khokhlachev returned to Windsor to play in familiar junior hockey territory. But after living at home in Russia for the first half of the season, re-adjusting to life in North America was still a small challenge both on and off the ice.
"It’s different than being back home, because it’s another country and another language," Khokhlachev said. "[But] hockey is hockey. So the hockey world is the same.
Since he was only 19 years old at the start of last season, Khokhlachev was not eligible to play in the AHL until his junior team’s season was over. He played 29 games for Windsor and tallied 22 goals and 26 assists for 48 points, but the Spitfires failed to make the playoffs.
Khokhlachev now had one more stop to make on a unique and determined journey.
Making his way to his third country, Khokhlachev joined the Providence Bruins and played 11 games, scoring two goals — including one game-winner — and assisting on another. This was his first taste at North American pro hockey.
While having to get to know four different teams in seven months could be a hard adjustment for many young players, Khokhlachev took the challenge as being an exciting time in his young pro career.
"I just have a good time everywhere, and I know the language here [America] so it’s easy for me," Khokhlachev said. "Everyone helps me when I ask them too, so it’s not a big problem. There’s good people here, good people back home, and good people in Canada. I just get along with everyone so it’s not really hard for me because everything has been going good."
The 2012-13 season was a great opportunity for Khokhlachev to grow and improve in order for him to be ready to show his skills in front of the Boston and Providence Bruins brass. He impressed the coaches and management in this year’s training camp so much that he was able to fill in at center for Patrice Bergeron on Boston’s second forward line in an NHL preseason contest.
Now that he is in Providence, Khokhlachev is motivated to show that he is ready to be called up to Boston when needed.
"All the guys in the room are motivated," he said. "Whoever is playing really good here today can be in the NHL tomorrow. I think it’s a really good opportunity for us. We need to show what we can do in this league and wait for a chance."
Khokhlachev is a player who realizes that improving on one specific thing is not good enough. Staying focused on improving all the little things of his game will benefit him in the future.
"I want to improve everything," he said. "The NHL is the best league in the world; it has so many good players there, so you need to be the best."
Khokhlachev’s work ethic proves that he is determined to be the best one day soon. But working hard does not mean this high-scoring center cannot have fun.
"I like scoring goals, obviously," he says jokingly. "But I just want to play hockey and win. I want to help my team win every game. My goal is to win championships. That is my favorite part of being on the ice, winning hockey games."
Being only 20 years old and completely on his own in the professional world, Khokhlachev wants to make sure his focus stays on playing hockey while learning how to take care of himself in a new culture. He may be a long way from home, but he is chasing a dream. And he is not done just yet.
Moscow, Ufa, Windsor and Providence. Next stop Boston.