On Monday, the AHL announced that Alexander Khokhlachev of the Providence Bruins was named the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the week ending Sunday, March 9, 2014. Koko was also named the Providence Bruins Player of the Month within the team for the month of February, so this is no fluke.
This was the first time that a P-Bruin has earned those honors this season. The last P-Bruin to be named CCM/AHL Player of the Week was Torey Krug for the week ending April 14, 2013.
The P-Bruins and Koko had three games in the week of March 9. They lost in a shootout on Friday, lost in regulation on Saturday, and won 9-3 against the Adirondack Phantoms on Sunday. Koko had two points in each game on Friday and Saturday and added five more points in Sunday's win. His totals for the week are three goals and six assists for nine points in three games.
The nine-point weekend hastened Koko's ascent to the top of Providence's points list. In 51 games this season, he has 46 points (18 goals, 28 assists). This is also good for fourth best among all AHL rookies.
Koko's success this season shouldn't be too surprising given his success in the OHL. As a 17 year old, Koko was drafted in 2011 at 40th overall in the second round. Although he is Russian, he was drafted from the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL (which made him ineligible for AHL play before age 20, which he is now). He had been in Canada since he was 15. In three seasons with Windsor, Koko averaged had 193 points in 152 games - 1.27 points per game. In his only playoff appearance with the Spitfires, Koko posted 20 points in 18 games in the 2010-11 season.
|OHL: Windsor Spitfires|
Because he was drafted out of the OHL and was ineligible to play in the AHL before this season, Koko spent the first half of last season in the KHL during the lockout. He played for the team coached by his dad - Spartak Moscow - but posted only seven points in 26 games. He returned to Windsor for the second half of the season, and after Windsor's OHL season was over, he joined Providence for the first time at the tail-end of last season.
This was around the time the failed Jarome Iginla trade happened. Koko wasn't playing much and didn't seem comfortable in the Bruins system. He played in 11 games - and zero playoff games - and had only three points total. He has developed into the player we all hoped he would as this season has progressed - his first full professional season in North America.
It should also be noted that Koko has won two medals with Russia at the World Junior Championship: a silver medal in 2012 and bronze in 2012. In both tournaments, he had five points in seven games.
This season in Providence, Koko has improved exponentially. After a slow start to the season, he began to heat up in December before suffering an injury that kept him out for about a month. When he returned, it was clear he was ready to prove himself and he began scoring at a ridiculous pace. In the second week of March, he has already matched his point totals in his previous most successful months this season.
With 46 points on the season - and 15 games to go in the regular season - Koko isn't quite at producing a point per game like he did in the OHL, and his current shooting percentage of about 16% is much higher than normal, meaning it will probably level out and drop at some point. But it's not just the goals scored that show his value - he is setting up goals and providing assists to contribute more significantly to the score. He is gaining confidence and looks comfortable in the Bruins system, something which a young player certainly has trouble adjusting to and buying into at first.
In February, Koko had a seven game point streak. He is currently riding a three game point streak. Koko has recorded a point in 29 games this season; 13 of those games have been multi-point games. He has centered each of the top three lines, currently sitting pat with Seth Griffith on his wing. He also sees significant power play time. When the Bruins traded Carter Camper, Koko saw more minutes in important situations. Koko's development this season is likely the reason that the Bruins felt they could trade Camper at all.
Koko's name is often brought up in trade rumors, but he has moved into an elite, almost untouchable category with prospects like Ryan Spooner (and...okay, just Ryan Spooner) in which they are not going to get traded unless it's for an elite NHL player. This wasn't the case a year ago when Koko was part of the failed Iginla trade.
Knowing you were almost traded to Calgary but ultimately got to stay in the farm system of one of the best organizations in the league could have been quite the wakeup call. He dodged a bullet. And I sincerely thank Iggy for nixing that trade despite the drama it caused at the time. While I still mourn the loss (and retirement) of Lane MacDermid, it's so much better for this team's future that Koko remains a centerpiece.
Clearly the Bruins management feels the same way. It's why he was rewarded with a quickie recall to practice with the Boston Bruins at the conclusion of the Olympics. He's someone that Bruins fans should pay attention to because not only is he fun to watch, he is getting better every day. And remember he is only 20 years old. He has an exciting future.
"I try to do better every day and work hard and I just see how I can be better everywhere, like all my game. Be stronger, smarter, faster, everything." Koko said of his game in an interview with the Bruins website back in November. "To play in the NHL, the NHL is the best league in the world, so you need to be a really good player to make it. So right now I need to improve my all-around game and try to be stronger and faster. Just keep working every day to play here."
Like the previous P-Bruin to be named CCM/AHL Player of the Week, I think there's a good chance we will see him on the Bruins NHL roster in the near future. And don't expect him to go anywhere via trade. I'm convinced Koko's development this season has made him too valuable to move, and that Chiarelli is unwilling to trade him unless it's for a massive return - not just a rental.
Was he part of the proposed Alex Edler trade that never happened? Perhaps. I think it's just as likely that Ryan Spooner was a central piece in the proposed trade. Koko isn't on Spooner's level (because nobody he), but he's also a few years younger than Spooner. And the fact that that trade fell through almost as dramatically as the Iginla one did is another blessing in disguise if it means Koko stays and has a future in Boston.
Bruins fans should no longer look at Koko as trade bait. His value is richer than that. It lies in what he will provide the Bruins as a member of the team rather than the return he would elicit in a trade. He's fun to watch, and he's a great player. If you look at the list of other players to be named the Player of the Week, it's pretty significant company. They are mostly fellow prospects that are either on the verge of the NHL or already full-time in the NHL such as Martin Jones.
Below are some fancy stats to further illustrate Koko's excellent play this season. Twitter user @joshweissbock does great work to produce AHL fancy stats since the league doesn't have any data available beyond the basic points. He was kind enough to provide these updated numbers for Providence on Monday evening.
Even Strength Goals For % Differential
These numbers show that Koko is second best among the P-Bruins in driving goal scoring while preventing goals scored against when he is on the ice. Keep in mind that Nick Johnson hasn't played in over a month due to a concussion and remains out of the lineup for an unforeseen amount of time. At even strength, Koko has the best goal differential percentage among active P-Bruins. Koko's line generally drives possession even though he has rotated through many different line combinations this season.
Goals For % Differential in All Situations
Compared to even strength only, these numbers show all situations. Koko is the P-Bruins best player overall in all situations. This is partially because he doesn't kill penalties and gets a lot of power play time, but overall, when Koko is on the ice, the P-Bruins are seeing a great deal more offense - more offense than with any other player on the team.
Providence Coach Bruce Cassidy had some positive things to say about Khokhlachev (and Seth Griffith) after Sunday's win. From Mark Divver's P-Bruins Journal:
"They’re creative guys and they’re hungry...They compete for pucks even though they’re not heavy guys. Koko’s goal (on Saturday) was a shot and a rebound. He out-willed two guys to get it in. He’s got a little Zach Parise in him around the net, a smaller guy who really has a good nose for the net...With Koko, you just have to keep him in check with his play away from the puck...
"I think it took Koko a while to understand what was happening here, what we’re trying to do, what his timeline was. Everybody wants to get out of this room and into the (Boston) room. We all get it. But that‘s a Stanley Cup lineup you’re trying to crack. It’s not just a matter of having a good month. I think they’re starting to understand that...
"The thing I like about Koko, as a centerman he’s a high plus (plus-13) player. Even though there are some deficiencies in his game, he’s valuing his play away from the puck, and not getting scored on, more than he did at the start of the year. He’s understanding the way the Bruins play a little more."
As illustrated in the tables above, the statement that Koko's play away from the puck has great value is extremely accurate. He has come a long way, even if he still has quite a way to go to crack the Boston Bruins lineup. (Again, these quotes came from here, and you should check it out for more Providence coverage.)
To end this post celebrating Koko's success, here are some GIFs I have made in recent weeks of him doing awesome things. (I'm personally trying to get the nickname Goalkhlachev to catch on.)
This last one is my favorite.