There isn’t a prospect at the top of this year’s draft that has been more polarizing over the past season than Jakob Chychrun. The Sarnia Sting defenseman came into the year as the consensus number two prospect in this June’s draft and only six months later he is being talked about as potentially the third or even fourth best defensive prospect.
The emergence of Olli Juolevi and recently Mikhail Sergachyov, has created a conversation among scouts that actually has Chychrun slipping out of the top-10 in some rankings. Of course, the exact same thing happened to Noah Hanifin last year as talk began to surface that Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski might be the preferred defenders for many scouts. After being the top blue-liner for more than a year, Hanifin started to drop as the season ended, only to be selected fifth overall by a Carolina Hurricanes team that is not going to regret the pick any time soon.
Chychrun did not build on his incredible rookie season the way many had hoped, but all things considered, he is still an incredible prospect and my gut says he’ll end up finishing on a very Hanifin-like trajectory.
Where Is He Ranked?
Chychrun began the season as the number two prospect behind Auston Matthews. He was a distant second but was far and away the best defensive prospect. As the season went on, Chychrun battled inconsistencies and the emergence of Olli Juolevi to see his stock fall and as of right now it’s as low as it has been. Chychrun still sits as the top defenseman on the consensus rankings list, but overall he has dropped all the way out of the top-5 to sit seventh as of this week. Chychrun is ranked as high as fourth but as low as tenth, a considerable variance along the same lines of what we saw with Hanifin at the end of last season. His Sarnia Sting team has been eliminated from the OHL playoffs by Chychrun still has the chance to impress scouts as he will be a big part of Team Canada at the IIHF U18 tournament that is just getting under way.
He Can Repair His Draft Stock
While there is the belief that the drop in his draft stock is warranted, many see it as an overreaction to the emergence of Juolevi. Chychrun had what some deem to be a tough year and even though his OHL season is over, he has two opportunities to win back the scouts that have started to doubt him. The first comes this week as Team Canada kicks off their U18 tournament tonight against Denmark. The U18 World Championship is an opportunity for many draft eligible players to show off their talent against their peers. Chychrun has the chance to show how he can perform against the others his age and in particular Mikhail Sergachyov who will be playing for Team Russia. Chychrun has the ability to be the best player in the tournament and if he plays like he can, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him up a little higher by the time the final draft rankings come out.
The second opportunity for Chychrun will come at the NHL Draft Combine. Jakob Chychrun is 6’2, 215lbs and as athletically gifted as an NHL draft prospect comes. He’s spoken about his training process and how he wants to be the best athlete possible both on and off the ice. He is positioned to absolutely obliterate the tests at the combine, and while many don’t see the merit in them, there are those in hockey who still put stock in combine results.
— Kathryn Jean (@msconduct) February 6, 2016
— Kathryn Jean (@msconduct) February 6, 2016
What He’s Good At
Jakob Chychrun is the type of big-bodied, minutes eating two-way defender that every team hopes to build around. He’s big, strong, smart with the puck and skates better than most at his position.
For as physically gifted as he is, his hockey instincts may be the best part of his game. Chychrun picks his spots and is able to put himself in the right position whether he has the puck on his stick or if he’s trying to defend an opposing rush. There is no hesitation to his game and that is something you rarely see from a kid his age.
He’s got a big shot from the point and isn’t afraid to use it. He led all OHL defenders in shots on net and is the kind of player you want on your blue-line on the powerplay. He is able to play in every situation and showed in Sarnia that he can play a lot of minutes (maybe too many this season).
He has the vision to start a great breakout pass, but also the awareness of when to hold the puck and use his skating to create the rush for his team.
The major drawback in Chychrun’s game is that it hasn’t grown the way many had hoped. After a rookie season that some thought was better than Aaron Ekblad’s in the OHL, Chychrun was expected to take the next step and dominate this year and he didn’t. There were times when he would look overwhelmed and others that he would simply try to do far too much.
There is a belief that Chychrun was relied on too much in Sarnia this season, he played in every situation. PP1, PK1, top shutdown pair, and was frequently double shifted. That sort of workload will have an impact on any player let alone an 18-year old.
What Others Are Saying
An unyielding two-way defenceman, Jakob Chychrun is a rising star with a toolbox bursting at the seams. Consistently displays elite four-way skating ability and is not afraid to throw his weight around physically. Plays with poise and composure through high pressure situations and, with the puck on his stick, can direct the play up-ice. Exhibits a particularly potent shot that works its magic on the power play and on the forecheck. Excellent first pass and uses his vision and awareness to keep the puck moving in the direction of the opposition’s tail or to a teammate with more time and space. Defensively adept at tracking the puck and staying a step ahead of the opposition. Proactive with his stick and body, exerting pressure on the opposition and forcing them to make hurried decisions.
All-in-all, a well-rounded two-way defender that competes with pro-level drive and makes his authoritative presence felt at both ends of the ice.
Jakob is a talented defenseman that is both physically gifted and has elite hockey sense. It shows immediately when you see him, but my favourite aspect of his game is what little hesitation he plays with. He just keeps on coming at the other team with different ways to attack.
There will be a lot of talk between scouts, media and fans as the 2016 draft approaches questioning the overall ranking of this uncontested top defender. Where does he fall versus the plethora of forwards that are available? In comparing him against Olli Juolevi and Mikhail Sergachev, Chychrun is the most complete player of the three. Juolevi made a significant push forward during the past World Junior Championship. The smooth skating Finn put up several points and impressed several scouts. The London Knights top defender does not have the physical ability, overall hockey sense, or shooting ability that Chychrun holsters. Sergachev is as good or maybe better when rushing up the ice and driving towards the net. Again he loses out in sense and shooting.
By The Numbers
Chychrun got off to a very slow start this season but started to contribute significantly for Sarnia after getting cut from Canada’s World Junior team. While his point totals are not all that impressive, it’s worth remembering that he had a very low sh%, so luck might factor into some deflation in his production.
There is something to be said for a kid that grew up around the game, like the Nylander brothers or Matthew Tkachuk, Jakob Chychrun grew up in hockey rinks thanks to family ties. Chychrun’s father Jeff was a journeyman defender who played nearly 300 NHL games, mostly with Philadelphia.
Aside from his father, Chychrun is the nephew of former Maple Leaf firs round pick Luke Richardson, another defender that while he didn’t live up to his 7th overall draft positions, did have a very decent NHL career. Having two former NHL defenseman in the family to talk to and learn from all the time can do nothing but help a young player looking to maximize his potential.
Boom or Bust
While many scouts are now looking to the London Knights defender when recommending defensemen to their management teams, the idea of Chychrun vs Juolevi might come down to how risk-averse a General Manager is. Juolevi is probably the safer pick. He’s got a lower floor and is likely more guaranteed to be a good NHL player. Juolevi has the potential ceiling to be top-2 on a good team and the floor of a number 4. Chychrun on the other hand, is probably a lot more risky. People worry that his floor is much lower than Juolevi’s. He might end up as a bottom pair and that’s not something you want to be spending a 5-10 pick on. People have used the cautionary tale of Zach Bogosian when talking about the downside to hyping a defender like Chychrun.
While the floor might be lower, the ceiling is also higher than Juolevi. Instead of being a potential number two guy on a really good team, Chychrun has that game-breaker potential you look for. If fully realized, his potential could be that of an all-around franchise defender in the Oliver Ekman-Larsson mold.
Does He Make Sense For the Leafs?
The only way that Chychrun makes sense for the Leafs is if they lose the draft lottery and are drafting 4th overall (many will tell you it still doesn’t make any sense). Assuming Matthews and the Finns are gone at the fourth pick, I would think that the Leafs would look long and hard at drafting Chychrun.
Everyone knows that Mike Babcock loves big, minute-eating defenders that he can trust. There are all kinds of rumblings that the Leafs coached pushed very hard to have Noah Hanifin drafted ahead of Mitch Marner at last year’s draft, and if that’s the case, it would stand to reason he would feel the same about drafting Chychrun over guys like Tkachuk, McLeod, Dubois or Nylander.
Sure, best player available is usually the best option when drafting, especially when you’re in the process of an all-out rebuild like the Leafs are. But at a certain point, the Leafs have to start looking at the fact that the defensive pipeline is a huge area of concern. There’s Travis Dermott, maybe Andrew Nielsen and then nothing, the Leafs don’t have a blue-chip prospect on the blue-line and Chychrun would change that immediately.
It’s become en vogue to rip on Chychrun and the suggestion that the Leafs should draft him at number four will probably be ridiculed any time it’s brought up, but Chychrun has more potential to be a franchise altering defenseman than anyone else in the draft. Mark Hunter hasn’t gained his reputation for talent evaluation out of nowhere, if he thinks Chychrun is the way to go then we should be happy with it. Considering how he’s dropped in the rankings, it might seem like a stretch but if the Leafs lose the lottery and are sitting at four, nothing should be ruled out of the equation.