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2018 NHL Draft prospect profile: What is the potential of a healthy Alexander Khovanov?

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Khovanov, a QJMHL playmaking center, had to battle illness in his draft year. Could he be an even more impactful player than what he managed to show?

Moncton Wildcats v Blainville-Boisbriand Armada Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Alexander Khovanov's season started in late December. He ended up playing 41 of his team's games, including the playoffs. Normally, this could be a big enough sample to get a good idea of a player ahead of the draft, but in the case of Khovanov, it's very likely that he was not playing at 100% in his first season in North America.

Birthplace: Saratov, Russia
Shoots: Left
Position: Centre
Height: 5’11
Weight: 180 lbs.
Team: Moncton Wildcats

He started showing symptoms of hepatitis A in the summer before joining the Moncton Wildcats, and missed half the season because of it. Even when he rejoined his team, he had been off the ice for a long time. His lack of conditioning and preparation after spending weeks fighting the disease put him in a difficult situation when he faced opponents in mid-season form.

The numbers he put up were respectable — 28 points in 29 games in the regular season and seven points in 12 games in the playoffs — but he didn't meet the expectations that were set out for him with his selection.

Image credit: EliteProspects

Khovanov was picked second overall in the QMJHL import draft after an impressive season in the MHL, the Russian junior hockey league, where he was named to the All-Star Game after recording 22 points in 29 games.

He wasn't the first player to struggle coming back after having been out long term. Timothy Liljegren, who contracted mononucleosis and only played the last few games of the season, is one of those cases. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect fell in the draft after he was hyped as one of its potential top prospects due to poor performances upon finally stepping on the ice.

In a similar way, Khovanov's incident makes him the 2018 draft's biggest question mark.

The good news is that Khovanov, an offensively-minded centre, is still showing some very interesting skills, despite inconsistent performances.

He is a talented playmaker with great vision who could run the Wildcats’ power play effectively from the half-wall. Very patient with the puck, he handles it smoothly, keeping defenders guessing while shuffling it back and forth, and moving around until he finds an open passing lane through traffic.

Alexander Khovanov wears #31 with the Moncton Wildcats.

He can find teammates accurately across the ice in a number of different ways: using his forehand or backhand, lobbing the puck, or by changing the angle of a feed at the last second to hook a pass underneath opposing sticks. The fact that he can combine this talent with some deception also helps him orchestrate his plays.

Even if Khovanov is primarily a passer, he can still put the puck in the net himself quite effectively. He positions himself well in the offensive zone and is therefore able create some one-time goals by capitalizing on the passes of his teammates.

The Wildcat player can also create chances for himself due to his skillful hands. He can bait defenders while handling, inviting the pokecheck only to move the puck out of the way with quick and fluid movements to delay until a passing option opens.

His good hands contribute to making him the playmaker that he is; he can keep defenders at bay while having his head up looking for a target, and can also use his stickhandling to fake defenders, enabling him to get a better look at the net to fire a wrist shot.

Khovanov has many good qualities, but his skating is a concern and likely one of the main explanations for his inconsistent performances from game to game this year. The puck had to find the centreman for him to become effective in the offensive zone.

However, this weakness can be at least partially explained by his situation. The impact of the time he had to take away from the ice cannot be ignored completely when thinking about this aspect of his game. While not necessarily showing that he is a top skater, Khovanov would have likely been better at following the play while being closer to top form and with proper off-season preparation.

Rankings (not all rankings are final)

Future Considerations: #37
NHL Central Scouting: #43 (North American skaters)

Thoughts

When a team will call Khovanov's name at the draft, it will be for his offensive potential. His defensive game is a work in progress and not where he shines. This also brings up questions about the position he will play at higher levels even if he is slotted down the middle for now. Better indications of this will come in the next few years when he will have a chance to prove what he can do when at 100%.

It's very possible that the European player ups his production significantly in 2018-19, and becomes a more involved two-way player and a fixture of the Wildcats. With off-season training to get back to form, he could become a big play driver for his team. He certainly has the skill to be so.

Khovanov only needs one NHL team to take a chance on him. He might be a riskier pick in the first couple of rounds, but the payoff could be great.