BostonBruins.com -- In order for a team to have success in the playoffs, it needs its best players to step up.
That being said, it’s not difficult to see why Providence could never be counted out during the 2013-14 postseason.
Prior to this season, center Alexander Khokhlachev had played in just 11 professional games. By the end of the 2013-14 regular season, he had a full pro season under his belt, playing in 65 games with Providence and finishing as a plus-11 with 21 goals and 36 assists for 57 points to lead the team.
The best news of all was that Khokhlachev didn’t miss a beat once the playoffs started.
“Koko is a skilled, playmaking center that also scores goals in the dirty areas of the ice,” said Bruins Assistant General Manager Don Sweeney. “He has a knack for emerging with pucks in battles situations. He excelled on both the power play and 5-on-5. His play in the D zone, and without the puck, were both markedly improved.”
Khokhlachev finished the playoffs as one of Providence’s scoring leaders with 14 points (nine goals, five assists) in 12 games. Two of those goals came in the third period of Game 7 against Wilkes-Barre, in the midst of a monstrous four-goal comeback.
He and fellow first-year pro Seth Griffith spearheaded a Providence offense that knocked off Springfield in five games in the first round before taking Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to seven games in the second.
In 65 games with Providence this season, Griffith finished with 20 goals and 30 assists for 50 points, second only to Khokhlachev’s 57.
“Seth may have taken a few weeks to acclimate himself to the pace of the AHL, but once he found chemistry with Koko and [Justin] Florek, he really took off,” Sweeney said. “His hockey sense and puck skills, especially on the power play, were a big reason as to why Providence was one of the better teams on the man advantage.
“Seth is not a big guy, but he protects the puck well, and with more core strength, he will continue to improve his overall play, especially in the D zone. Seth is a player that other guys like to play with because he can make things happen.”
In his first professional postseason, Griffith registered four goals and seven assists for 11 points in 12 games. Ultimately, Providence fell in Game 7 of its second-round series against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, but second-year pro Ryan Spooner was nevertheless impressed with the fight and the character his team showed after mounting a four-goal comeback in the final two frames of that last game.
“We had a young team this year, and I think the fact that we knocked off Springfield in the first round — the second seed — it showed just how capable we were as a young group,” Spooner said. “And then playing against Wilkes-Barre, too — they had an older group, and going into that series, I didn’t really know how our team was going to do going up against that, but I thought we played well. And I think we were a little bit disappointed in the last game, but the third period that we played was awesome. I think that was probably one of the best periods we played the entire year.
“I think, again, as a young group, we could have easily just been like, ‘It’s 5-0 now. The game’s over.’ But I think the character we showed was great, so I was proud of every one of my teammates in that game.”
Spooner played in 49 games with Providence this season, registering 11 goals and 35 assists for 46 points. He also played in 23 games with Boston, notching 11 points. Given his level experience – and given the youth on his Providence team this season – Spooner knew he had to emerge as a leader this season.
“Our team was extremely young — I think we had maybe 11 or 12 first-year guys there,” Spooner said. “So I was only in my second [full] year, but being a guy that was called up and down, I think I had some experience to share with some of the guys that didn’t have that. And I was there for some of the young
er guys, guys that were in their first year. So me being in my second year, I was just there to help them out if they had any questions or things like that.”
At the same time, Spooner remains eager to make an impact with Boston, but he knows that patience is essential as he works his way up to the NHL. In the meantime, he is the first to say that he has plenty he can work on.
“Obviously, when get called up, it’s great — you tell your mom and your dad, and your family and friends are happy for you,” Spooner said. “And just being up there and just kind of being a part of it was great for me, and I think I played pretty well when I was up there, too. Obviously a lot of things, I guess, that I can work on, but in terms of the whole picture, I thought it went well.
“You’ve got to have an open mind when you go up there. You’re there [because] someone [else got] hurt, so you got to kind of be prepared for it, but just try to make the most of the time you have up there.”
One aspect of his game Spooner wanted to improve this year was his postseason performance. Last year, in his first professional postseason, he admitted that he struggled, registering just five points in 12 games.
This year was a different story: He finished with six goals and nine assists for 15 points in 12 games.
“I think Ryan had a completely different mindset entering the playoffs this year,” Sweeney said. “He was much more prepared for the challenge of playing against top lines and he produced with much more consistency. He is still a young player who has shown improvement, while gaining valuable experience as to the level of commitment, with and without the puck, that it takes to win at both the AHL and NHL level during the playoffs.”
Added Spooner, “I think last year was the first year that my season was that long, and I think i just kind of lost focus,” Spooner said. “This year, I kind of learned from the mistakes that I made in my first year and tried to work on them and tried to keep myself as rested as I could and tried to stay as focused as I could. And I think that really helped me out.”
Spooner also spent this season honing in on other areas of his game — his play in his own zone and his defensive game, specifically — and all in all, he was happy with the evolution of his game in his second full professional season.
“When you play pro hockey, you got to really stay focused when you’re out there,” he said. “I think I got a lot better in my own end, and just on little smaller parts of my game, like staying engaged.
“Obviously, there’s some things I need to work on, too — I need to work on my faceoffs, and I’m going to be working on my overall strength and size and just go from there. I’m just trying to get ready for the training camp coming up and just try to get myself the best chance to kind of show up in good shape and make sure I’m playing to the best of my abilities, and give myself the best chance to be on the opening night roster.”