It’s been six months since the Canadian Hockey League Import Draft; six months of uncertainty and concern for the Moncton Wildcats.
But the long wait is finally over – Alex Khovanov has arrived.
The highly touted Russian forward has been sidelined for the past nine months, recovering from Hepatitis A that left the young Saratov, Russia, product wondering if he would ever return to the game he loves.
“Of course, I had negative thoughts, but mostly I tried to stay positive,” said the young Russian. “It’s been too long since I played last, and I can’t wait to start skating. I’m very excited to be in Moncton to start my hockey season.”
It’s not the first time the young talented Russian centreman has stepped foot on North American soil. He skated away with a bronze medal at the 2016 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge held in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, a tournament in which he tied for second pace among the top point-getters.
But this time, his North American debut is sure to be even more special. And the much-anticipated arrival of Khovanov couldn’t have come at a better time for the struggling Wildcats squad.
“Alex can be a special player,” said Wildcats Director of Hockey Operations, Roger Shannon. “We are excited and really looking forward to help Alex after all he has been through. [We want] to get his CHL career going in Moncton, and help him develop into the player we know he can be.”
“As a number one centreman in Russia, he excelled in his age group,” Shannon added. “We hope that will transfer into the CHL, and that he will become that elite player we feel he can be.”
As time went on, uncertainty surrounding Khovanov’s arrival to the Hub City began to surface while speculation and rumours reported his unwillingness to report to the Moncton Wildcats. A subsequent contract signing in the KHL was also looming, which couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
“Out of respect for Alex and his family, as an organization we did not feel that it was our place to chase rumours around,” explained Shannon. “We knew about his medical condition, we simply kept working with him and his family to get him the best advice. We are very pleased it worked out for everyone and will continue our pursuit of the Memorial Cup with Alex in hand,” Shannon said.
Khovanov’s struggle with Hepatitis A was agonizing and debilitating, to the point that the 17-year old phenom needed some more time before returning to game action in the QMJHL after he was cured.
“It was hard not to play and not to train and very difficult to watch the game being played and not participate,” explained Khovanov.
“Alex has endured more than most young hockey players ever do, with an ankle injury and then contracting Hepatitis A, “said Shannon. “Not playing hockey since [last] March, he is finally clear of both, and ready to start on the path he always had in mind for himself,” he added.
The Wildcats selected Khovanov with the 2nd overall pick in the CHL Import Draft in hopes he would help turn around the fortunes of the franchise after last year’s rebuild. Khovanov’s speed and skill set will definitely help the Wildcats young talented core, and bring stability to the center position.
“I’d like to get back to playing as soon as coaches say I’m ready and try to contribute,” Khovanov said.
Khonvanov’s absence from the game has no doubt impacted his NHL Draft ranking. The 5’11’’, 179-pound, dynamic scoring forward was given a “C” ranking (4th to 6th round) following last fall’s 2017-18 NHL Central Scouting preliminary players to watch list.
“Obviously I’m aware of what’s ahead of me,” said Khovanov of his QMJHL season and upcoming NHL Draft. “But at this juncture, I’m focusing on getting in shape and stepping on the ice and hearing the anthem and knowing my first shift is near.”