TLN Draft Prospect Watch: Jakob Chychrun

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. 


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.

Drawbacks

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

From EliteProspects:

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.

From FutureConsiderations:

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.

From HockeyProspectus:

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.

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The Pedigree

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.

Conclusion

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.

  • MatsSundin#13

    Is there any chance he drops to the PIT first-rounder? I would certainly think not, but I cant help but get my hopes up considering the way his stock has fallen recently

    • Absolutely ZERO percent chance that he falls that far. Edmonton, Vancouver, Arizona, and Colorado all need defense bad and those are only teams picking in top 10. This article made Chychrun seem like more a slouch this year than he was, but I understand what the author was saying and that is it might be a risky stretch for leafs to take him at 4. However, if you’re drafting 7-12 and he’s still there he ends up looking like a steal.

  • MatsSundin#13

    Outside of the first three picks the talent falls off hard. It will be a disappointment for the leafs if that happens.

    And I have yet heard a reason why trading down from 4 and gaining an asset will be much different then picking at 4th given the uncertainty in the quality of the talent.

    • MatsSundin#13

      I don’t know about that. I could still see a team taking Dubois over Puljujarvi. I could also see Edmonton drafting a dman at 3 if that’s where they end up. Dubois, Nylander and Tkachuk are not as far off the Finns as people make it seem. The Finns had an outstanding World Juniors but their numbers in the Finish league are not other worldly and don’t even compare to the kinds of numbers that recent grads of that league like Barkov put up there. Tkachuk and Nylander were also very good at the world juniors and Dubois is a big skilled versatile player as well. I still think the Finns are top 3 but not by as much as some have made it seem.

  • MatsSundin#13

    If we draft chychrun (and assuming he is good enough to play on the leafs), this might lead to a trade of gardiner or marincin for a bonafide right handed dman.

    Chcychrun would be more ideal for the leafs if he was a right dman. Draft the BPA and all, however the leafs do need a right dman so if Chychrun is the BPA at #4 then the logjam on the left side will necessitate finding a right dman

  • MatsSundin#13

    Well, if we do end up picking 4th, I might be more apt to see if you could trade down with 5th, 6th or 7th to see if you nab him late since any number of the Tkachuk, McLeod, Dubois or Nylander posse could just as easily be had. Maybe we could get another late 1st, early 2nd, or good prospect out of a trade like that.

  • CMpuck

    Canucks or Oilers will love him as a consolation prize if they lose the lottery.

    If the Leafs are at four, think you have to take him, he’ll develop another year in juniors and would be a sexy piece to deal in a potential blockbuster. Defenseman of Chychrun’s type hold more value than Nylnder, PLB and Tkachuk. We took Marner over Hanifin/Provorov, it’s about time to address other needs on the club.

  • After they win the April 30th draft lottery, Lou & Co. will probably work hard to secure a second pick in the top 5 by offering the Pittsburgh pick, maybe one of their thirds and a decent player.

    I think they’ll make it a priority to nab TWO of the top defensemen available to start their pro careers at the same time, and same organization, as Auston Matthews.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Just a FYI to anyone reading this article, the writer is also of the opinion that Barzal is better than Marner. He also thought Marner would not be able to score 2 points per game this season and would have a weak season.

    IN other words, he’s a dumbass.

  • Gary Empey

    From my perspective the situation on Leafs defense has changed considerably, from the start of the season. With the eminent signing of the KHL all-star, the excellent year of our CHL defensive prospects, and a couple of Marlies ready to play NHL next year. Suddenly the Leafs are no longer as thin on defense as they were.

    If we do draft 4th I think we should/will be addressing our most pressing need. First line center. Could Pierre-Luc Dubois be that guy?….Inquiring minds would like to know.

    • JB#1

      Gary,

      I completely agree with this comment.

      To quote the author from above

      “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..”

      This time last year, the Leafs had yet to draft Andrew Nielsen or acquire Scott Harrington in the Kessel trade. Viktor Loov and Rinat Valiev hadn’t had solid years with the Marlies either. Justin Holl hadn’t had a decent year for the Marlies either but looked pretty good in the couple of times I saw him.

      Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying any of these players project to be top-4 dmen, but that really isn’t the most-pressing concern for the Leafs.

      I think what a lot of people are forgetting is that the Leafs already have a top-pairing defender in Morgan Rielly, a solid second-pairing defender in Jake Gardiner, and assuming they sign Zaitsev, another player who projects to be another second-paring defender.

      As you stated, assuming they drop to 4th, the most pressing need the Leafs have, that they might try to fill from the 4th pick, is a player who projects to be a No. 1 centre. Is that player Pierre Luc-Dubois? At this point, who knows but I would be OK with the Leafs taking him and letting Babcock work his magic on him.

  • FlareKnight

    Seems like a fair option to consider at 4. Wouldn’t if we won any of the lotto spots, but at 4th overall it’s not a bad choice. Still seems like the best defensive choice at that spot and if he turned out like you’d hope….would be a pretty key guy going forward.

    Don’t have complaints about the overall game there. At 4 I think it comes down to guys like Chychrun, Dubois, and Tkachuk….just depends on your personal preference. This time I’d take the D.

  • Harte of a Lion

    Juolevi is a stretch at 4 but I’ve seen him live twice and he looks to me as good as Chychrun, even better in some was but they are way different d-men with different strengths. Unfortunately I never got to se Sergachev this year but saw Chychrun last year.

    As far as this lefty/righty discussion, everyone seems to forget that May 1 The Leafs will announce the signing of Zaitsev from the KHL. I expect him to need 40 games with sheltered minutes and another 40 to be completely comfortable but we are getting one of the best young defencemen (right shot) playing pro hockey outside of NA without giving up assets. He has never played 82 games plus 10 pre-season games plus playoffs.

    The KHL isn’t the NHL, and that’s why I expect him to take a year to adjust. With the Leafs trainers, strength and conditioning coaches and Babcock pulling the strings, looking back this time next year, this signing might be the most important move the team makes this off season not including the draft and Free Agency…

    • CMpuck

      Is Juolevi better than Rielly? If not then he doesn’t make the top pair.

      He could replace Gardiner but do we really want to tank a season, to get a potentially marginal upgrade on Gardiner?

      Juolevi vs Chychrun is a matter of opinion on being the BPA, given it’s a toss up and the Leafs need Chychrun’s more than another PMD in Juolevi, can’t see how picking Juolevi makes any sense. Mark Hunter is the only reason I can see the Leafs taking him.

    • Juolevi looks better in person because he plays very sheltered minutes. He doesn’t line up agains the oppsition’s too line and never plays on the PK. A perfect example of this was in London’s last playoff game. Juolevi got only 3 shifts in the third period

  • CMpuck

    Chychrun is the BPA at 4th for the Leafs to select. If for some reason they don’t draft within the top 3 and don’t take Chychrun at 4th, I hope they take Nylander over Dubois and Tkachuk.