Alexander Khovanov’s draft season was not ideal, but, in the end, the Wild saw enough to know the Russian-born center had talent and fire. He was supposed to suit up for the QMJHL’s Moncton Wildcats, but a summer vacation in the Dominican Republic led to Khovanov contracting Hepatitis A. The sickness kept him out of the lineup until late December. “It was a hard season for me – I didn’t feel myself,” Khovanov said. “But when I got to Moncton, everybody helped me, from the coaches to my teammates. The second half was good.”
Once he returned, Khovanov was basically a point-per-game player, though he was still shaking the rust off. “We knew his conditioning wasn’t where it needed to be, but that was something we could fix,” said Brent Flahr, the Wild’s senior vice-president of hockey operations. “His skill, his vision, being light on his feet and his ability to make plays are what we like. You can’t teach what he can do well.”
Flahr and his scouts saw Khovanov at an under-18 tournament in Michigan in February, playing with Andrei Svechnikov, who Carolina drafted second overall in June. Khovanov ended up going 86th overall to Minnesota, and now he’s back in Moncton on an improved Wildcats squad. But getting used to the style of play in North America wasn’t an issue for him. He actually seems to play better when the going gets rough. “It wasn’t surprising to me,” Khovanov said. “I like how they play: more hits, more shots. It’s a fast game, and you have to battle in the corners.”
The key now is for Khovanov to hone his fiery game in the right way. He can get overly frustrated in games, and channelling that energy and passion into something positive would go a long way. “He’s a competitive kid, and he’s hard on himself, a bit of a perfectionist,” Flahr said. “He wants the puck on his stick, he wants to be the guy, and that’s what you want in a player.”
When he’s on his game, Khovanov doesn’t back down from anybody and makes some fearless rushes to the net. More of that will make him a draft-day steal.