Boston Bruins: Trade Deadline and Alexander Khokhlachev

Boston Bruins: Trade Deadline and Alexander Khokhlachev

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The 2016 NHL Trade Deadline is 11 days away, and the focus for the Boston Bruins has been almost exclusively on what the team should do with pending UFA Loui Eriksson. While that decision remains the biggest one for the Bruins in the upcoming days, the team will have also have a decision to make regarding one of their top prospects in Alexander Khokhlachev.

Alexander Khokhlachev is currently sitting in second in points on the Providence Bruins with 15 goals and 26 assists for 41 points in 39 games played. The Bruins selected Khokhlachev with the 40th overall draft pick in 2011, and since then, he has consistently shown that he has what it takes to create separation between himself and his opponents at the AHL level. Offensively, Khokhlachev is one of the best prospects in the Bruins’ system, his defensive ability, however, certainly has room to be improved. The talent level of Alexander Khokhlachev has never been questioned; his ability to transition his game to the NHL level, however, has been under scrutiny for a few years.

In the defense of Alexander Khokhlachev, he has only been given nine games at the NHL level to prove himself with limited ice time in each. There is certainly a learning curve to overcome, and even the best NHL players have had their own struggles in their first few games with their teams. In his nine games with the Boston Bruins, five of which coming during the 2015-16 season with two alongside David Krejci and Loui Eriksson during their white-hot start to the season, Khokhlachev recorded zero goals, zero assists, and two penalty minutes. It’s no secret that the young Russian forward has been relatively invisible offensively for the Boston Bruins, and that has clearly worked against him given the fact that he is known as an offensive-threat.

One of the major issues is the fact that Alexander Khokhlachev is a center. The Boston Bruins have had the center position locked up for years, with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci ingrained at the top two spots on the team. Outside of those two spots, players such as Ryan Spooner, Chris Kelly, Maxime Talbot, and Carl Soderberg have found time at the center position over the last few years as well. With so many players blocking Alexander Khokhlachev at center, the opportunity to play in the NHL for him has come almost exclusively at the wing position.

Outside of the positional battle that Alexander Khokhlachev has had to deal with in the NHL, the timing of his development may be another issue. The Boston Bruins have been legitimate playoff contenders for years, and with that in mind, the team hasn’t had the opportunity to experiment with young players by giving them extended looks in their lineup. Head coach Claude Julien has shown in the past with Ryan Spooner that his system is the way it is, and it is only under very specific situations that a player like that gets to show his full potential over an extended period of time.

Ryan Spooner was drafted with the 45th overall draft pick in the 2010 NHL draft, just one year before Alexander Khokhlachev. In his first 27 games as a member of the Boston Bruins split between two seasons — four games in the 2012-13 season with zero points, and 23 games in the 2013-14 season with zero goals and 11 assists — Spooner showed little reason for why he should remain in the Bruins’ lineup, especially given his lack of defensive accountability.

An opportunity arose for Ryan Spooner in the 2014-15 season, however, with David Krejci suffering injuries that kept him out of the lineup for 35 games, allowing him to dress in only 47 total. In 29 games with the Boston Bruins during the 2014-15 season, Ryan Spooner posted eight goals and 10 assists for 18 points. The most impressive thing about Ryan Spooner’s sudden offensive burst, however, was the time-frame in which those points really came in. From February 22nd until April 2nd, Ryan Spooner posted all 18 of his points. Five of his goals came at even strength with the remaining three coming by way of the power play. It took Ryan Spooner an extended “audition” with Claude Julien before he finally earned a full time job in the Boston Bruins lineup. Alexander Khokhlachev hasn’t received such an opportunity yet, and that opportunity may never come.

With Alexander Khokhlachev publicly stating that “I will not play in Providence all my life”, the Bruins may need to package their young prospect to try and get something for him before he becomes an RFA at the end of the season. Usually, players hold little-to-no leverage with RFA status, but the circumstances may be different for Alexander Khokhlachev, who is also the property of SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. Khokhlachev’s agent Alexei Dementiev stated in clarification of Khokhlachev’s initial comments about his playing status in the NHL by saying “In this circumstance we can’t and we don’t talk to SKA St. Petersburg, the KHL team, who has his rights in Russia.”

Whether or not Alexander Khokhlachev and his agent communicated with SKA St. Petersburg at the time is irrelevant. What is important to note, however, is that Alexander Khokhlachev has options should the Bruins not grant him playing time, or a trade to a team that might be willing to take a chance on Khokhlachev’s high-offensive ceiling.

Follow Brandon Share-Cohen on Twitter @BShareCohen to discuss all things Bruins and sports