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The second overall pick in the CHL Import Draft, much was expected out of Alexander Khovanov this season. He put up five goals and seven points in the 2016-17 Under-17 World Hockey Challenge, and the Moncton Wildcats were excited to see what their new import player could do. As the young Russian star was getting ready for the Ivan Hlinka tournament, he got sick. He was diagnosed with Hepatitis A and his season was put in jeopardy.
Khovanov would go back to Russia to recover, eventually joining the Wildcats in December. Coming into a new league; in a new country where one does not speak the language; adjusting to smaller ice; missing training camp and the first three months of the year; and coming off a serious illness. Put that all together, and the adversity would have been too much for many. However, Khovanov excelled despite this. He put up nine goals and 28 points in 29 games. He also added seven points in 12 playoff games.
Khovanov played on a line with Grigori Denisenko and Andrei Svechnikov at this year’s five nations. While the trio was brilliant in the tournament, none of the three players were invited to play in the IIHF Under-18 World Championships for Russia.
Alexander Khovanov Scouting Report
Centre — shoots Left
Born April 12th, 2000 — Saratov, Russia
Height 5’11” — Weight 179 lbs [180 cm/81 kg]
Khovanov has good, but not great top-end speed. He also has good acceleration, reaching that top speed in just a few strides. Khovanov’s stride does not have the power to fight through checks and maintain balance right now. This could improve as he adds more lower body mass. It is clear that this was a bigger issue when he first came back, and that he got stronger as the year went on. He gained back some of the weight that was lost battling his illness. The strength gains should continue in future years. Khovanov also has good agility and edgework. He can change directions on a dime.
Khovanov is an outstanding playmaker. He has the vision and the passing skills to put pucks through tight areas and on the tape of his linemates. He reads the play really well, slowing things down when necessary to give a teammate the opportunity to get open. Khovanov has soft hands and is a very good stick handler. He combines this with his skating ability to be a nightmare for defenders in one-on-one situations. He can either beat his man and cut to the net, or create a passing lane, or use his defender as a screen and take a shot on net. Overall he is a very smart offensive player.
Khovanov has a powerful and accurate wrist shot. However, his wind-up is a bit long at this point, and this takes away a bit of the element of surprise. It is not that bad, it just is a step below some of the other shooters in this class. He also has a strong snapshot and a very good backhand. Khovanov is a pass first player though. He could stand to shoot more often, which would also help to make him less predictable.
Khovanov’s defensive game needs some work. He is not afraid to be physical along the boards or down low, but lacks strength right now. That could come with time. He needs to be more consistent in his own end. On some shifts he backchecks hard, but on others seems to be puck watching. It’s not clear if this is an issue of giving more effort, or if it was due to a lack of endurance after his illness and should correct itself.
Projection and Comparison
Khovanov could be a real boom or bust prospects. There are flashes of elite skill, and the potential to be a top line centre in the NHL. However, there are some deficiencies in his skating, his strength, and his overall endurance. The question NHL teams will face revolves around the illness. How much of the deficiencies were due to his recovery from Hepatitis and will go away with time? And how many were real red flags that will prevent him from taking the next step? Khovanov’s game is reminiscent of Evgeny Kuznetsov, but this is a stylistic comparison only and not one based on skill or ability.
The following is a compilation of some of the many highlight packages of Khovanov that are available on youtube.
Check back tomorrow for the next prospect on our draft board.
Embed from Getty Images
PLYMOUTH, MI – FEBRUARY 14: Alexander Khovanov #13 of the Russian Nationals skates after a loose puck in front of Niklas Nordgren #15 of the Finland Nationals during the 2018 Under-18 Five Nations Tournament game at USA Hockey Arena on February 14, 2018 in Plymouth, Michigan. Russia defeated Finland 4-0. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images)