Boston, MA - Spring is officially here, and the CHL/junior, NCAA and European playoffs are underway, with the NHL (and AHL, ECHL) not far behind.
In the OHL, Malcolm Subban, Anthony Camara, Seth Griffith, and Cody Payne are all currently playing in the postseason’s first round. All are making an impact for their respective teams, though Griffith is looking for his first points in the playoffs after missing the final 14 games of the regular season. Camara’s hot offensive start (three goals in two games) will take a hiatus after he received a three-game suspension from the league for flipping the puck into the stands.
In the NCAA, Yale defenseman Rob O’Gara’s Bulldogs made it into the national tournament after Michigan fell to Notre Dame in the CCHA championship game. The Bulldogs freshman had a solid season, focusing more on taking care of business in his own end. He’s still maturing physically, and watch for him to open it up offensively going forward; the Long Island native has smooth and fluid footwork with an ability to jump up into the play. The University of North Dakota and goaltender Zane Gothberg are also in the dance. Gothberg played well when the Sioux starter was injured during a key stretch in February, exhibiting poise and long-term promise.
Elsewhere, the season is over for B’s prospects Brian Ferlin and Matt Grzelcyk, after their Cornell and BU clubs were knocked out of the ECAC and Hockey East playoffs. Ferlin bested his freshman goal scoring numbers and continues to develop as an intriguing power forward with NHL upside. Grzelcyk capped an outstanding freshman season by being named to the Hockey East All-Rookie Team. Western Michigan forward Colton Hargrove’s year is also over, but the rugged winger showed flashes of NHL-caliber ability, albeit with a long road ahead.
This is also college contract season, as student-athletes either exhaust their NCAA eligibility or make the decision to turn pro.
The B’s signed prospect and Harvard senior Alexander Fallstrom after the Crimson’s season ended. He registered an assist in his first AHL game with Providence against Manchester, and brings an effective two-way game with his size and smarts. A former fourth-round pick in 2009 (by Minnesota with the selection Boston surrendered as part of the Manny Fernandez trade, acquired by the B’s as part of the deal for Chuck Kobasew) Fallstrom provides more depth to the system and could develop into a solid bottom-six forward option down the road.
The Bruins also added 21-year-old University of Minnesota-Duluth defenseman Chris Casto this week, signing the undrafted free agent and former Hill-Murray (Minnesota) H.S. and Lincoln Stars (USHL) standout at the conclusion of his season. At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, the shutdown defender skates pretty well and has good instincts. Casto was a participant in Bruins prospects development camp last summer on an invitational basis, showing enough promise to earn a contract with the club this time around.
Bear Cub snapshot: Alexander Khokhlachev, C Providence Bruins (AHL)
After his Windsor Spitfires failed to make the OHL playoffs, “Koko” made his AHL debut with Providence against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers on Mar. 22.
Talent analysis: Khokhlachev is undersized and needs to improve his strength to be able to better handle the inevitable puck battles along the walls and in front of the net. Has improved his speed and quickness since being drafted in 2011: quick jump with lateral elusiveness and the ability to separate in open ice. Outstanding stickhandler with the ability to control the puck well in traffic and beat defenders with slick 1-on-1 moves. Khokhlachev has an NHL shot already; he hides his release point well and can pick the corners with very little time or space to work with. Excellent vision and offensive hockey sense. Plays with passion and energy, but needs to bring that same consistency to every shift. Opts for flashy, individualistic plays at times instead of using his linemates more effectively.
Outlook: The 40th overall selection in 2011 (pick acquired from Minnesota as part of the Kobasew trade) continues to evolve as one of the more offensively skilled prospects in Boston’s system. The left-shooting Khokhlachev is a versatile forward, with the ability to play center or wing. His development since being drafted is clearly trending upward as a top-six forward projection, as he possesses the stick and shot to play in the NHL right away. Realistically, Khokhlachev needs a little time to gain experience and physically mature before he’s ready for full-time big league duty. Having split the season between the KHL, OHL and AHL has given Koko a clear understanding of what is required of him at the professional level versus major junior. Watch for the talented Russian who doesn’t even turn 20 until September to take his off-season training plan seriously and come to camp ready to make a case for NHL consideration. In the meantime, Koko has the opportunity to gain invaluable regular and postseason experience with Providence.
Kirk Luedeke covers the Boston Bruins and NHL prospects for the New England Hockey Journal and is a contributing editor and hockey scout for the Red Line Report. You can follow him on Twitter at: @kluedeke29