With the #40 overall pick in the 2011 Entry Draft (which came from Minnesota via the Chuck Kobasew trade), the Boston Bruins selected Alexander Khokhlachev from Windsor of the OHL. Khokhlachev was the first Russian forward to be drafted by the Bruins since 2002, when Vladislav Yevseyev was drafted 56th overall, and the highest-drafted Russian by the Bruins since Sergei Samsonov went 8th overall in 1997. Everyone knows the kind of success Samsonov had with the Bruins; he became the only player to ever win the IHL's Rookie of the Year and the NHL's Calder Trophy in back to back seasons, and to this point has 235-336-571 totals in 888 NHL games.
Why compare these two Russians? Isn't the Russian factor actually a non-factor, according to many skeptics? In fact, it's actually a useful comparison when considering why Khokhlachev will probably play in the KHL this coming season.
There are an odd number of similarities between Samsonov and Khokhlachev. They're both diminuitive forwards (Samsonov listed at 5'08, Khokhlachev at a ridiculously generous 5'10) who were highly touted for their creativity with the puck and nifty skating. Both, oddly enough, were also drafted out of North American leagues - Samsonov from the IHL (Detroit Vipers), and Khokhlachev from the OHL (Windsor). Of the 122 players drafted since 1997, only eight have been Russian, and only two were drafted from North American leagues - Samsonov and Khokhlachev.
Similarly, both players made life-changing decisions to play in North America. Samsonov suffered through a lawsuit between the Detroit Vipers and CSKA, the KHL team that had contracted him, before getting to play in the IHL. Khokhlachev, whose father, Igor, is the newly-appointed GM of Spartak Moscow, was supposed to be the face of the KHL's new junior league, the MHL (Minor Hockey League). He turned down a number of endorsement deals and sponsorships in order to play in Windsor, where he felt his chances of getting drafted by the NHL would be higher.
So both forwards have a strong drive to make the NHL, both made the jump to North America and made sacrifices in the process to do so - factors that aren't present in any of the Bruins' other recent Russian draft picks (as an aside, only one of the other Russians drafted by the Bruins since 1997 ever saw NHL ice time - and that was Sergei Zinovjev, drafted out of Metallurg Novokuznetsk; he played four games in Providence and ten games in Boston in the 2003-2004 season before fleeing back to Ak-Bars Kazan of the KHL.)
The difference ultimately lies in minor league rules and the quality of the current Bruins team vs. what it was 15 years ago. The year before Sergei Samsonov was drafted, the Bruins finished last in the league with 61 points. A player of Samsonov's skill had no trouble cracking the awful Bruins' lineup, and even helped them into second place in the Northeast Division the year after, eventually losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Stanley Cup Finalist Capitals. Had the Bruins been as awful this year and not drafted fairly well the last few years, Khokhlachev could be in a similar situation.
Samsonov also did not have to worry about age restrictions; the CHL-AHL player age agreement didn't affect the CSKA-IHL path Samsonov took. However, as Khokhlachev was drafted out of the OHL, he cannot play in the AHL until the 2013-2014 season (he must be 20 on or before 12/31/13).
Despite having family in management in the KHL, Khokhlachev has said all along that he wants to play in the NHL, and his actions prove this. He's gone out of his way to learn English, has played for a Windsor team that's not been incredibly good as of late. However, before lacerating a kidney (yes, really) in March of last season, he put up 25-44=69 totals in 56 games as an 18-year-old (he was the youngest player taken in the 2011 draft, and didn't turn 18 until September 9 last year.) Would it be worthwhile for him to spend another year "going through the motions" in the OHL, where he'd probably put up a 50 goal, 100 point season? In the Bruins' eyes, how good exactly is that for development? Sure, he can work on his defensive game, as he was a -22 through those 56 games last year, but in reality, how useful will another year playing against 16-20 year olds be?
Dominic Tiano, who covers the OHL extensively, believes that Khokhlachev is three years away from cracking the Bruins. "with the Bruins depth at center, not to mention Ryan Spooner waiting in the wings and Tyler Seguin at some point playing center, he'd be looking at two more years in junior before jumping to the AHL for another season or two." With the AHL not an option for another year, the KHL makes sense as a development choice for Khokhlachev.
By playing in Spartak, where he's said he'd like to play someday, he gets to spend time with his family while playing against men in what's probably the second-best league in the world at this point. It's not a permanent move back, it's a developmental one; Khokhlachev's commitment to continue attending Bruins' development camp is a telling one. The NHL is within reach, and a detour to the KHL isn't going to derail those plans; instead, it'll likely aid them.
In order to retain Khokhlachev's rights, according to section 8.6 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement: