Major junior star Khovanov pacing Wild prospects

Minnesota Wild fans should have a reason to keep an eye on Team Russia again at this month’s World Junior Championship.

Moncton Wildcats center Alexander Khovanov was named to Russia’s camp roster this week. The list will be pared down to 23 players before the tournament begins Dec. 26.

The Wild were unrepresented at last year’s tournament after Khovanov was cut. Russian forward Kirill Kaprizov, Minnesota’s top prospect, led the 2017 tournament in scoring.

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Fellow Wild prospect Hunter Jones, a second-round pick in 2019, is one of four goaltenders on Canada’s initial WJC roster. The U.S. will announce its preliminary roster Dec. 9.

This year’s Russian team is composed primarily of players from the country’s pro and minor-league ranks. Khovanov, however, is off to a spectacular start in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

One of three forwards selected by Minnesota in the third round of the 2018 draft, Khovanov ranks second in the QMJHL at 1.96 points per game this season, behind only Alexis Lafreniere, a top prospect for next year’s NHL draft.

The 19-year-old is up to 19 goals and 26 assists in just 23 games in his third season with the Moncton Wildcats and leads all Wild prospects in both points and points per game.

Khovanov had a spectacular October, registering nine goals and 13 assists during an eight-game point streak, including a six-point outing Oct. 13. He was at it again Sunday, picking up two primary assists and three total during a 5-4 loss to Cape Breton.

His production is in line with scouts’ original expectations for the talented Russian.

The second overall pick in the 2017 CHL import draft — Andrei Svechnikov, currently in his sophomore season with the Carolina Hurricanes, went first — Khovanov contracted hepatitis A the following summer, delaying his QMJHL debut until December.

Once expected to go in or near the first round of the 2018 NHL draft, Khovanov slid all the way to No. 86 after posting nine goals and 19 assists in 29 games for Moncton during his illness-shorted 2018-18 season.

He played a full season the following year, registering 25 goals and 49 assists in 64 games, but another health scare last summer cut his offseason schedule short. The Wild announced in August that Khovanov would miss the NHL prospects tournament after undergoing surgery to remove a benign bone tumor from his leg.

With his game trending in the right direction, that third-round pick is beginning to look a steal.