Another year, another prospect unhappy being blocked by the Bruins center depth. Behind Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Chris Kelly, and last years participant Ryan Spooner, making the Bruins roster as a center is an uphill battle. Khokhlachev was asked if the fourth line competition was more difficult this year - and he didn't hold back, telling reporters that:
Koko: "I wait for my chance already 2 years, so I’m still waiting. They should make decision, give me the chance, or I don’t know."— Amalie Benjamin (@AmalieBenjamin) September 19, 2015
"I played in Providence two years and I led them in scoring two years. I think I’m playing good. I’m not a young guy anymore. I’m 22. I think I’m ready for the chance."
Another outside factor could impact his chances on making the team, as Julien hinted that they might keep 8 defensemen, leaving only 13 roster spots open for forwards. With 10 forwards presumably locks, barring a trade, and having Max Talbot, Zac Rinaldo, Brian Ferlin, Joonas Kemppainen, and Seth Griffith battling for NHL jobs along with Khokhlachev, at least two of them will start the year in Providence. It comes down to if the Bruins brass decides to continue having a fourth line that can muck and grind, with Rinaldo, Talbot, Kemppainen and Ferlin having an edge, or going with four scoring lines, where Khokhlachev and Griffith have an edge.
Julien strongly considering keeping 8 D. #Bruins— DJ Bean (@DJ_Bean) September 19, 2015
In terms of ceiling, Khokhlachev's PCS says that roughly 40% of AHL players around his age, height, and scoring ability have played 200 or more NHL games 40% of the time, scoring about 41-42 points per 82 games. This is slightly behind what Ryan Spooner's 21 year old AHL season was, with Spooner having 42% of his cohorts go on to NHL careers, scoring 42-43 points per 82 games. Spooner was in a similar situation, with the Bruins seemingly giving up on him, and rumors of trading him swirling around left and right. They had him play wing for a few games, purportedly at the behest of another team's request. One hit from David Krejci on David Backes gave him the chance Spooner needed, and he ran with it. Barring injury, will Khokhlachev get that chance?
The Bruins right now have ten top nine forwards (Chris Kelly is a top 9 forward, pound sand if you think otherwise). Where will Khokhlachev fit in? His only real shot is on the fourth line, be it on the wing or at center with Kelly sliding over, and the Bruins have had some success at bringing an young offensive player up from the fourth line before. (No, its not Shawn Thornton or Gregory Campbell)
Khokhlachev now has to back up his strong words with a strong camp, unlike the camp that he had last year when he had the chance to take Gregory Campbell's spot while the veteran was injured. This is his last year on his entry level contract, and while he has no other NHL options barring a trade, his KHL rights were acquired at the beginning of August, giving him another option. The Bruins would retain his rights since he would still be a RFA as long as they qualified him.
At the end of the hockey day though, this comes down to what Khokhlachev does on the ice at camp. He put the target on his back, now its time to show Don Sweeney and Claude Julien what he can do.