The worst-kept secret of the Bruins' offseason finally became official last week, when 22-year-old Russian forward Alex Khokhlachev signed with SKA Saint Petersburg in the KHL.
The Bruins sent Khokhlachev -- who spent three years in the Boston organization, almost all of them at Providence -- a qualifying offer to retain his NHL rights, which would enable them to use him as a trade asset.
Khokhlachev was the P-Bruins' lead offensive player during his time in the AHL, with 59 goals and 168 points in 186 games. Yet he played in only nine games for Boston, with no points and a minus-4 plus/minus rating. He was frustrated he never got an extended look to see what he could do in the NHL, and said so openly during last season's training camp.
“There is not much to comment on,” said Khokhlachev’s agent, Alexei Dementiev, in an email to CSN. “The team does what is best for them, and the player does what is best for him. Koko wanted and wants to play in NHL, but all the answers are in the Bruins office.”
The breaking pount, according to sources close to Khokhlachev, came when Boston signed a European free agent -- 28-year-old Finnish center Joonas Kemppainen -- before last season and gave him more than four months to prove himself at the NHL level. It was the kind of audition Khokhlachev never felt like he never received during his time in the Bruins organization, despite being nearly a point-per-game player over three years in the AHL.
However, it's also true Khokhlachev never exactly crushed several chances in the preseason to win a job, or during his regular-season stints filling in for injured players.
The belief is Khokhlachev’s camp wanted a trade so he could try to establish himself with another NHL team, as his family had settled in the Toronto area over the last few years. But teams aren’t willing to give up assets for a player who would require waivers to be sent to the AHL starting this season, so, instead, he's headed back to Russia.
Clearly, there are still questions about whether the 5-foot-10, 181-pound center is a “tweener” -- not big enough or fast enough to consistently score at the NHL level. It looks like those questions will go unresolved for now, as Khokhlachev returns to Russia to play with Ilya Kovalchuk and Pavel Datsyuk in the KHL next season.