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Rychel's gamble pays off

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Windsor will become the new hockey home today for Russian phenom Alexander Khokhlachev.

Windsor Spitfires general manager Warren Rychel headed to Vaughan Thursday to pick up Khokhlachev, who was visiting family.

Khokhlachev's transfer to the Spits has been approved by the International Ice Hockey Federation.

"He's a high-end player," Rychel said.

"He's going to be an elite player in our league at some point."

The Spitfires gambled by moving up in the European Import Draft to get the 17-year-old Khokhlachev with the 23rd pick overall.

Under contract with Spartak, it appeared the Spitfires were willing to wait a year to get Khokhlachev like the club had in previous drafts with Richard Panik and Tom Kuhnhackl.

However, before the end of July, agent Alexei Dementiev was able to secure Khokhlachev's release.

"It was due to a good relationship and my agent did a good job," Khokhlachev said through an interpreter.

Dementiev's deal means Khokhlachev will return to Spartak should he return to play in Russia. But he's come to North American to chase a dream of playing in the National Hockey League.

"I want to continue to learn," the six-foot, 176-pound Khokhlachev said.

"The level of the game here is at a much higher level than junior (back in Russia)."

Playing in the Kontinental Hockey League sponsored Russian Junior League, Khokhlachev had 15 goals and 40 points in 51 games last season.

At last year's World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, he led the Russian team in scoring and was second in the tournament with five goals and 13 points in six games and was named to the all-star team.

"He likes to score goals and he plays with passion," Rychel said.

Khokhlachev believes his game is more rounded.

"I'm 50-50," Khokhlachev said. "I see myself as a goal-scorer, but I can read and make plays as well."

Some scouts compare him to former Detroit Red Wing star Sergei Fedorov and North American Central Scouting has him rated eighth in the world for the 2011 NHL.

Rychel cautions there will be an adjustment period.

Aside from the language barrier, Khokhlachev must adjust to the style of play.

"I have to get used to the physical play here," Khok-hlachev said.

For now, he's just looking forward to getting to see his new hockey home, which he could only view on his computer back in Russia.

"I only know what I read on Google," Khokhlachev said.

"I know it's a small town (compared to his home in Moscow) where the people like hockey a lot and they've won two championships."

Khokhlachev can not only be a part of this year's team, but will have three years of eligibility with the club.

"We'll have to get younger (at some point) and he'll be here to be a part of it," Rychel said.

jparker@thestar.canwest.com or 519-255-5784

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