Koko down, Frankie Vatrano up as forward carousel goes round and round

The Boston Bruins announced today that Alex Khokhlachev has been returned to Providence of the AHL, with left wing Frank Vatrano summoned to Montreal for what could be the Bay Stater’s first career NHL appearance against the Canadiens on Saturday night.

Let me ask you- could achieving the dream of reaching the NHL get any better for a kid who grew up in Western Mass. cheering for the Bruins than by getting to take on the hated les Habitants?

Some folks are none too happy about Koko being relegated, but I have to be honest- I get that he’s played a total of 6 NHL games without ideal ice time, but the player I’ve seen do some impressive things at the AHL level is not the passive, tentative, mediocre forward I’ve seen for limited stretches in Boston. There is no doubt he’s skilled, but there seems to be an element of fans out there who so desperately want him to succeed that they’ve created this illusion of strong performances with the Bruins, and I don’t really see it at all. He’s just kind of been there- neither making egregious errors, but not asserting himself in particularly effective fashion, either.

Most on Twitter who engage me about it seem to want to blame Claude Julien once again- as some kind of Hobgoblin to young players- a draconian taskmaster who employs a system that only the Chris Kellys and Gregory Campbells of the world can figure out. I think at some point- you have to raise expectations for a player as talented as Koko is, and its okay to ask- “where’s the beef?” when he comes up and flits around the ice but doesn’t get a whole lot accomplished.

Too harsh on the guy? Perhaps. As was said before- we’ve seen a completely different, more assertive Koko down in the AHL. He’s capable of more.

So, Frankie Vatrano, Bruins nation turns its lonely eyes to you. The wicked shot with an instantaneous release, pinpoint accuracy and heaviness that belies his lack of height (though he is built like a bowling ball with a thick, powerful trunk) is already well documented. What isn’t as well known to B’s fans is the natural instincts/smarts, the willingness to hustle over all 200 feet of the ice even if the innate ability to play a defensive game aren’t there and the overall body of work still needs to improve.

With 10 goals in 10 AHL games, Vatrano is getting his first shot at the big show. We knew it was coming at some point sooner rather than later, but just a month into the regular season? I’d say that’s worth raising a glass.

As for Koko- it’s not over. He needs to go down, keep scoring and working hard. Many of us thought we had seen the end of Ryan Spooner in a Boston uniform as late as mid-February of this year, and he managed to establish himself. It’s not all lollipops and unicorns, but Khokhlachev could do the same thing if he’s willing to keep his eye on the prize and not give into his frustration by going through the motions or demanding a trade. It’s okay to be disappointed if you’re him, but at 22, it’s doubtful Boston has given up on Koko- he just hasn’t given them a reason to keep him in the mix. For now. The real test is to see how he reacts to this latest setback. We’ll soon learn how he spells c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r.

Until then, Vatrano is living the dream- from undrafted free agent snub to Boston Bruin in just under eight months with the offseason thrown into the middle. That’s not too shabby. And while he could soon find himself back down on the farm as well, he’s earned this shot…with that shot of his.

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