2017-18 Team: Moncton Wildcats (#31)
Date of Birth: April 12, 2000
Place of Birth: Saratov, Russia
Ht: 5’11” Wt: 191 lbs
NHL Draft Eligibility: 2018 first-year eligible
- THW (Pike’s Picks): 41st (March)
- Future Considerations: 30th (Spring)
- Bob McKenzie: 62nd (Mid-season)
- Craig Button: 51st (March)
Alexander Khovanov has been a highly-touted prospect for a number of years and was seen by many as a first-round talent prior to the 2017-18 season. Selected second overall by the Moncton Wildcats in the 2017 Canadian Hockey League import draft, Khovanov was expected to have an immediate impact in the CHL similar to that of his fellow countryman and good friend Andrei Svechnikov, who was chosen first overall. The season has instead been a challenging one on many fronts for the Russian prospect but he has performed well given the circumstances.
Following his selection in the import draft, the plan was for Khovanov to arrive in Canada shortly after so that he could get a head start on his training and acclimatize himself to North America. Khovanov did originally travel to Moncton in June but, while away at camp for the 2017 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament, it was discovered that the 17-year-old had contracted hepatitis A while vacationing in the Dominican Republic earlier in the offseason and would be sidelined indefinitely as a result.
Big Maritime Welcome to newest Wildcat Alex Khovanov! First day in 🇨🇦 excited and ready to go! #wildcatsfans#1 pic.twitter.com/OcHW3kLHwJ
— Roger Shannon (@rogershannon12) June 29, 2017
The illness would cost Khovanov the opportunity to suit up for Russia at the 2017 Ivan Hlinka tournament and also cause him to miss his first training camp in North America. The 5-foot-11 pivot opted to recover at home before returning to Moncton in early December, where he would ramp up his workouts and finally meet his teammates. Khovanov was declared healthy enough to play a few weeks later and made his QMJHL debut on Dec. 28.
Understandably, Khovanov had to play an impossible game of catch up once he finally did hit the ice. Everyone else in the QMJHL was in mid-season form while the Russian import was coming off a nine month layoff and had to adjust to the smaller ice surface on the fly. Considering the situation, the centre did remarkably well by scoring a goal in his second game and finishing the regular season with 28 points in 29 games.
A gifted playmaker, Khovanov appears to enjoy setting his linemates up for goals more than he enjoys putting the puck in the net himself. Elite vision sets him apart from most of his peers as he’s able to see lanes develop ahead of time and knows where he’s going with the puck before it even gets to him. Khovanov is in his element manning the half wall on the power play where he is able to thread the needle and make hard but accurate cross-ice passes seemingly with ease.
The centreman likes to frequently carry the puck through the neutral zone and across the opponent’s blue line before slowing things down and watching for something to develop. Despite not having the best foot speed, he can play fast hockey by moving the puck quickly and finding open space. He can also be quite shifty, but, like anyone who has the puck on their stick often, there is risk in his game which can lead to turnovers.
Likely never reaching full game shape this season, Khovanov’s skating ability remains his biggest question mark. There’s no hiding the fact that the 17-year-old’s foot speed hasn’t been there this season, especially his first few steps, but how much of that is due to injuries and illness? If Khovanov can improve his acceleration and endurance then he is a slam dunk as a prospect because all the other tools are there.
Khovanov’s skill is evident as he’s a natural with the puck on his stick. His vision is exceptional, he can finesse passes to create grade A scoring chances and he can finish. He’s not afraid to mix things up either and can often be found initiating post-whistle scrums. He will also get in on the forecheck where his quick stick can lead to sneaky takeaways. While he has next-level offensive tools, his defensive play and skating both need work.
Alexander Khovanov – NHL Draft Projection
Khovanov could be the biggest wildcard in the 2018 NHL draft. It would not be a shock to see him selected in the late stages of the first round and it also wouldn’t be a surprise if he slipped all the way down to the third round.
Khovanov possesses game-breaking talent which would support an early selection but he comes with a lot of question marks as well. Exactly how healthy has he been this season? How many points would have have registered if he started the season in September rather than in December? Then there’s also the infamous Russian factor. After all, Nikita Kucherov slipped to the second round in his draft year for similar reasons.
Corey Pronman wrote in a recent article about Khovanov in The AthleticNHL, “He’s always looking to make a play. He displays great composure holding the puck in the offensive zone and can find options through tight seams. He also has great skill to open up space to make plays.”(from ‘Alexander Khovanov is the 2018 NHL draft’s biggest wild card’, The AthleticNHL – 2/8/18)
“His lack of explosiveness is obvious, and there are times you want him to be more puck hungry like most top-line centers. Still, he’s a lethal set-up man with the puck on his stick. The question is how hard he wants to work to get it there.” – Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst
- Excellent offensive vision
- Great passer
- Slick stickhandler with quick hands
- Finds open ice and gets his shot off quick in high scoring areas
Under Construction (Improvements to Make)
- Needs to work on his explosiveness
- Could improve his faceoffs
- Prone to taking undisciplined penalties
Other 2018 NHL Draft Profiles
Khovanov has a ceiling of an offensive second line centre and first unit power play specialist, though a shift to the wing could happen once he reaches the professional level. A skilled playmaker who brings enthusiasm and some feistiness to the rink with him.
Risk – 4/5, Reward – 4.5/5
Fantasy Hockey Potential
Offense 9/10, Defense 6/10
A 2016-17 MHL All-Star, Khovanov has represented Russia at the Under-17 and Under-18 Hockey Challenge over the last two seasons. He also captained Russia at the 2016 Youth Olympic Games where tied for the tournament lead in scoring en route to a bronze medal.
Mark Bowie covers the Edmonton Oilers and the QMJHL for THW.