Khokhlachev Rocketing up NHL Draft Boards

We’ve touched on the “Khokhlachev-Kassian connection” before.

Bang on the link at the bottom if you want to re-read that post. Doing so might be a great primer for tomorrow’s draft, as at least one big time draft analyst has the Sabres now taking “Koko” with their 16th overall pick.

Ryan Kennedy, of the long-tenured Hockey News Magazine, has published his mock draft. His explanations were brief, but this is what he had to say about Koko and the Blue and Gold:

16. Buffalo: Alexander Khokhlachev, C, Windsor (OHL)

For a team that scores by committee, ‘Koko’ would be another potent weapon and brings strong character.

Short and sweet.  Let’s revisit the scouting reports on Khokhlachev:

“The first thing that jumps out about Khokhlachev’s game is his heart. With a grinder-like style, Khokhlachev hustles on both the forecheck and backcheck. Watch Khokhlachev closer and one will see that he has a terrific hockey sense. Khokhlachev has no problem driving to the net without the puck and banging home a rebound or setting up backdoor for a pass. This style worked great for the center that saw a lot of playing time with wingers Tom Kuhnhackl (Pittsburgh) and Jake Carrick. Khokhlachev also displays a great release that makes him not only a scoring threat just outside of the crease but inside of the zone as well.”

–The Scouting Reports Andrew Weiss

“Khokhlachev is pure skill, baby. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he goes top-10 in the NHL Draft come June. He’s a game-breaker, and like Alexander Burmistrov, by coming over to North America has shown a commitment to playing here and will alleviate concerns about signability by doing so. He’s one of those guys who, although is small, could be in the NHL next season because his speed and puck skills top shelf.”

Kirk Luedeke from “Bruins Draft Watch”

HeDontPlayTiny Khokhlachev Rocketing up NHL Draft Boards

Get this kid a trainer! Once his frame fills out to match his heart, he's going to be a stick of dynamite on the ice.

Sabres draft nerds will be quick to point out how Buffalo elides talent from outside of North America, ever since the scouting department was downsized to a couple guys, a six pack, and a VCR.*  However, KoKo is one of those determined kids from Moscow who chose to hone his talents in the OHL – and he played alongside Zack Kassian.

Kassian is a player that the Sabres really need to blossom into a goal scorer at the NHL level. What better way to achieve this than to reunite him with a center that spoonfed him goals?  From the Windsor Star:

Training camp is one big chemistry lab, but you don’t need a university degree in the subject to see that there’s something developing between Russian rookie Alex Khokhlachev and LaSalle native Zack Kassian.

Playing on a line together, the duo made the puck sing with some nifty passing in leading Team Red to a 5-1 win Thursday over Team Blue in the Windsor Spitfires’ final intra-squad ga-me at the WFCU Centre.

The pair combined for seven points between them. Kassian had two goals and an assist while Khokhlachev had two goals and a pair of helpers.

“I haven’t clicked like that with anyone in my whole OHL career,” Kassian said. “His vision on the ice, his skating . . . he’s just outstanding. He’s fun to play with.”

On the game’s first goal, Khokhlachev supplied a perfect cross-ice pass for Kassian to one-time past goalie Jack Campbell at 9:20 of the first period. Kassian showed his soft ha-nds in returning the favour with a nifty pass in traffic five minutes later that Khok-hlachev finished off with a dandy deke.

The Kassian-Koko-Connection continued into the OHL regular season, and could continue here in Buffalo. That is, unless Khokhlachev continues to rocket up the charts, and gets selected before the Sabres pick.

In any event, there are plenty of larger-framed centers out there with a good skill set that will be available when the Sabres pick – all those guys would be safer selections, and would fit right in with the big guys the Sabres have been drafting lately.

It’s safe to say, though, that the Sabres have drafted enough size.

I’ve been very high on Boone Jenner.  I like Mark Scheifele, Zack Phillips, Marc McNeill, and all of the big centers in this draft. I wouldn’t be disappointed if the Sabres drafted 6-7 defenseman Jamie Oleksiak. But really, now is the time to compliment the size that Buffalo has already drafted with skill, and there is no better compliment at #16 than KoKo.

Your move, Darcy.

BONUS VIDEOGotta’ love the kid’s celebrations, which remind many of comrade Ovechkin.

*Editor’s note: this is all comedic exaggeration. Except for maybe the six pack. This is hockey, after all.

UPDATE: A lot of draft profiles out there list speed as a concern with KoKo, as was pointed out to me today on the Twitter. So I did a bit of research. I think a lot of these claims come from two sources. The Hockey News Draft Preview cites an anonymous scout who says that “he’s not a tremendously gifted skater. ESPN’s scouting report says “skating is a big question mark.”

We’ll give THN a pass here, as the print magazine was put together a while back. The ESPN report, however, contradicts itself entirely (I know, ESPN screwing up something involving hockey is shocking. Utterly shocking.)  Directly after questioning his skating, ESPN cites two scouts who laud his skating. We’ll let the pros take it from here:

“Dynamic, but smallish centre, is surprisingly strong on his skates and can create offense from nothing. Excellent playmaking skills and vision. Has good speed – quick and shifty. Very smart both with and away from the puck with excellent anticipation. Always has the puck and it just seems to follow him around the rink. Does the unexpected and is a terrifically imaginative distributor, particularly on the PP.” – Red Line Report 2011 Draft Guide

“One of the most electrifying offensive players in the OHL this year, Khokhlachev took things to a new level during playoffs, scoring 20 points in 18 games. Alex is a highly skilled, crafty offensive minded forward who possesses a real scorer’s touch. He is at his best and most effective when he has possession of the puck. He has excellent hands, and when he plays with the puck he does so at a very high pace and speed. He displays speed, quickness and the ability to change directions and gears in an instant.” – International Scouting Services 2011 Draft Guide

Silly ESPN.

Go Sabres.

See also: “Khokhlachev, Kassian, and one Ridiculously Awesome ‘Subway’ Commercial

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