BOSTON - Alex Khokhlachev doesn’t sound happy when it comes to spending the last two seasons in the Bruins organization.
The 22-year-old Russian center was expected to compete for an NHL spot along with Ryan Spooner in last year’s training camp, and disappointed enough that he was an also-ran for a fourth line center spot that eventually went back to Gregory Campbell. Then Koko proceeded to lead the AHL Providence Bruins in scoring (15 goals and 43 points) for the second consecutive season while watching fellow young center Spooner lock up an NHL spot in the second half of last season.
So now the Russian sees it as an uphill battle to win a spot on this season’s NHL roster here in Boston, and Khokhlachev said felt like he never really got a fair chance.
"I've been waiting two years so [the Bruins] should make a decision: give me a chance [in the NHL] or...I don't know. We'll see what they do. I’m not a young guy anymore. I'm 22 already,” said Khokhlachev. “If they don't give me a chance to play while I'm here...I won’t play in Providence all of my life. I'm still waiting for [my chance]."
The 22-year-old did play a couple of games for the Bruins last season, including netting a shootout game-winner vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets, but didn’t feel like it was much of an opportunity after just a three-game look.
“I played two games and then the third game I played two minutes. I don’t think that’s much of a chance,” said Khokhlachev. “I played fourth line. That’s my role and I need to play it, but I don’t believe this is really a chance playing two games.
“I’m surprised, but that’s how it goes. They’ve got other guys, and the young guys they played stepped up. So I’m still waiting and hopefully it’s coming soon.”
Clearly, there’s still a chance that a talented guy like Khokhlachev could win an NHL job in Boston this season, but it would either necessitate A) a move to the wing or B) a stint as the fourth-line center at least to start his NHL career. With David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Spooner as the top three centers, there isn’t a lot of room at the Black and Gold Inn for a pivot that doesn’t feel like he’s best suited for fourth line action.
And that may be some of what is at the heart of Khokhalchev’s discontent as he watches himself become part of a numbers game with the Bruins where last year might have been his best chance to establish himself in Boston.
From the sounds of it, Khokhachev is pining for a fresh start in a different organization and a chance where there are NHL spots readily available. But he won't have any leverage at all as a player until he finishes out his entry-level contract with Boston, short of picking up and heading back to the KHL and Mother Russia.