Playing without Alexander Khokhlachev during the stretch drive and playoffs may be a portent for next season for the Windsor Spitfires.
Chances are, anyone reading a junior hockey blog late Saturday night already heard Jim Parker's report that the Boston Bruins second-round pick, who won a world junior championship silver medal with Russia in January, could go to the Moscow Spartak of the KHL for his age-19 season. The obvious micro junior hockey angle is that Spitfires GM and vice-president Warren Rychel has roughly a month to decide whether to cut bait with their No. 1 centre and use their No. 15 overall choice in next month's Canadian Hockey League import draft on a European player who would come this season. The other is whether this shows how the tail wagging the dog with the CHL-NHL agreement that keeps a major junior draft pick out of the American Hockey League might cost the Bruins a fairly high draft pick. Last but not least, one wonders if this brings back some cold feet for NHL GMs who might be tempted by a Russian's ability but are wary whether he's 100 per cent bent on the NHL instead of the 'other' league.
The Spitfires selected Khokhlachev with the 23rd pick in the 2010 Canadian Hockey League Import Draft from Moscow Spartak. The understanding was his rights in Russia would remain with Moscow Spartak.
A return may have become more of an option for the five-foot-10, 178-pound Khoklachev after his father Igor Khokhlachev was named general manager of the Moscow Spartak's KHL club in February.
"It could happen or it could not happen, I don't know yet," Rychel said. "We're working through it. We have different options and we're prepared either way."
... If he signs with the Bruins, Khokhlachev would have to make the NHL team next year or be returned to the Spitfires because he was drafted out of junior hockey.
He cannot be sent to the American Hockey League. (Windsor Star)
Those last two paragraphs really show what it's all about. Even the biggest advocate for major junior hockey would concede that aside from brushing up on positional play, taking on an expanded leadership role, etc., certain 19-year-olds probably would benefit from being allowed to play in the AHL. It'll never happen since the CHL surely believes that if it ever gave a centimetre, the NHL would surely take a kilometre. (Man, old sayings really do not convert into metric.) The NHL already stretches out teenagers' stay with the big team as much as possible, even when it's self-evident he's shown where he should be playing.
In a conservative sport such as hockey, it's doubtful that will ever change. It is glaring, though, that a Canadian player has to stay put until he's 20 while others have more options. Khokhlachev isn't even the only European in the CHL who has pursued playing elsewhere for his 18- or 19-year-old season. There were reports last week that Regina Pats forward Dominik Volek, 18, might sign with Sweden's Färjestad Karlstad. That's the same team Khokhlachev's countryman, Shawinigan Cataractes right wing Kirill Kabanov, tried out for this fall before returning to the QMJHL.The OHL's Peterborough Petes also recently bid adieu to 19-year-old right wing Lino Martschini, who signed with the Swiss Elite League's EZ Zug.
The Volek-to-Sweden story talk is notable because his adviser works for an agency headed by Jiri Hudler Sr., father of Jiri Hudler, the ex-Detroit Red Wings defenceman who's now a scout and was a Czech world junior team assistant coach. The Czech Republic is a leading supplier of import players to the CHL, but one wonders if this means Sweden is trying to attract juniors there. In any event, though, a European going back to become a teenaged pro is something to celebrate, really, the same way as when a Canadian or American CHL player reaches The Show early.
Getting back to Khokhlachev, this could blow over if he only goes to the KHL for one- to two-year hitch. He is probably that far from being NHL-ready, so it's hard to see how Boston has lost out on him yet. With that being said, it's not going to do much to disabuse NHL teams of their hangups about drafting Russians with high picks.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.