DRAFT PROFILE: Alexander Khovanov, High Risk, Higher Reward? 

by Matt Smith, Staff Writer, All Habs Hockey Magazine

We will continue our look at prospective draft picks for the Montreal Canadiens at the 2018 NHL Entry Draft with Alexander Khovanov of the Moncton Wildcats.

Alexander Khovanov, C, Moncton Wildcats (QMJHL)
April 12, 2000 | Saratov, Russia
5-11, 179 lbs. | Shoots Left |
2017-’18: 29 GP, 9 G, 19 A, 28 PTS

CSB: No. 43 (NA Skaters) | ISS: No. | THN: No. 53 | HP: No. 86 | FC: No. 37

Perceived as a possible first-round talent entering the 2017-2018 season, Alexander Khovanov was selected by the Moncton Wildcats  second overall during the Canadian Hockey League import draft, one pick after Andrei Svechnikov. The Wildcats, however,  had to wait for Khovanov to make his debut until December, as the Russian forward was diagnosed with Hepatitis ‘A’ after vacationing in the Dominican Republic during the off-season, and was sidelined as a result.

Khovanov finished his first season in North America, scoring nine goals, adding 19 assists for 28 points in 29 regular season games. During the playoffs, he scored three goals, adding four assists in 12 games for a Wildcats team that defeated the Rimouski Océanic, the third best team overall in seven games. Moncton lost to the new coach of the Laval Rocket, Joel Bouchard and the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in five games. 

I know what many of you are thinking, 28 points for a player who was selected one pick after Andrei Svechnikov, I think we’ll take our pick elsewhere. However, take into consideration that he was playing in a new league, on North American ice, having missed training camp, being unable to develop chemistry with teammates, and commencing his season coming off a serious illness, while others were in mid-season form. To me, I’d say that 28 points in 29 games isn’t an atrocious number, whatsoever. It’s safe to presume that his numbers would have been superior had he been 100 percent, and that his numbers will surely increase during the 2018-’19 season.

Khovanov is a skilled playmaker with great vision, enabling him to change the pace of the game when the puck is on his stick, making accurate tape-to-tape passes. He makes up for a lack of top-end footspeed with soft hands and stick handling ability, allowing him to protect the puck long enough to create a passing lane.

As you may have noticed, Khovanov is more of a playmaker than a natural goal scorer, so it would be wise for him to shoot the puck a bit more often to be less predictable when he’s carrying the puck.

Take Jonathan Drouin as an example, throughout the season, especially on the power-play there were many times I was quite vocal towards my television repeating the phrase “SHOOT THE PUCK!” Once Drouin started using his shot, it gave the Canadiens another weapon.

A strong off-season for Khovanov, and a full training camp should build chemistry with his teammates, which could lead to not just more points, but an increased amount of shot attempts.

Defensively, Khovanov is a work in progress. His footspeed, and endurance will need to improve if he hopes to succeed as a professional. He sometimes floats without the puck, especially on a prolonged shift. He’ll use his body or stick effectively at times during the forecheck, while other shifts he tends to take off playing on the defensive side of the puck. These deficiencies could be attributed to returning after a lengthy illness, as it’s very unlikely he was ever at 100 percent this past season, but it’s an area of his game he’ll need to improve as soon as possible, to demonstrate he’s a much better player when healthy. 

When it comes to the Montreal Canadiens, the decision now rests with Trevor Timmins and General Manager Marc Bergevin. The 2018 NHL Draft is quickly approaching, and the Canadiens will enter Dallas with ten draft picks, including four in the second round. If Khovanov is available with one of the Canadiens late second round picks, he could certainly be a high risk, high reward selection.

However, if teams see Khovanov as too much of a risk to use a first or second round selection, he could be available in the third or even fourth round, where the Canadiens have four picks (one third, three fourth.) The lower he drops, the lower the risk the Canadiens would have by using one of their picks, but with their lack of talent down the middle, Khovanov could be a worthy gamble.