2016 NHL Draft

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LHD Jakob Chychrun

Sarnia Sting 6 at Saginaw Spirit 4, March 19th 2016
Steve Kournianos  |  04/02/2016 |  New York  |  

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New York (The Draft Analyst) — Nobody seems to have figured out, at least publicly, how high top prospect Jakob Chychrun of the Sarnia Sting will go in the draft. Chychrun, along with Finnish star wingers Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, are three players considered to be part of a strong group of consolation prizes after center Auston Matthews is selected first overall. Chychrun would be the first defenseman off the board, as many, including this analyst, thought long ago that he was a sure lock for the top three. And while it’s likely too late to shift opinions away from the “Big Finns” following their historic individual performances at the world junior championship, the rhetoric surrounding whether Chychrun is not the best defenseman in the draft seemingly grows more raucous as the big day nears.

Photo courtesy of OHL Images

We simply don’t get the negativity. In fact, the Chychrun bashing we’ve combed through is not backed up with in-depth analysis. What you generally come across are stuff like “Scout(s) from an unknown team in an unknown league isn’t fond of Chychrun’s game.”

Just a quick FYI – there are thousands of hockey scouts in North America and Europe. Heck, there are hockey scouts in Asia and South America. And guess what? A lot of those scouts keep making bad choice after bad choice. A story nitpicking Chychrun’s overly-impressive skill set becomes a tad more newsworthy when direct quotes from on-the-record sources back up an analytical assessment made by the writer. I know…I’m asking for way too much here.

Could it be posturing by scouts or front office types, going off-the-record to smear a kid’s reputation so he falls to them on draft day? How else could one explain that Chychrun dropped in several rankings the same month he was named the OHL’s top defenseman? In a recent article from Sportsnet, an NHL scouting director sounded as if the community is slanted in the way they collectively view Chychrun. Some have knocked his upside, comparing him to a mid-level defender like Buffalo’s Zach Bogosian or implying he does not have “franchise” potential.

With all due respect to top blueline prospects Olli Juolevi (London, OHL) and Mikhail Sergachyov (Windsor, OHL), we think there should be little, if any debate whom the best defenseman is for the 2016 draft. There’s only one draft-eligible defenseman we identified with cornerstone upside, and that’s Chychrun, a physical force with excellent mobility and all the intangibles you’d want in the kid expected to run your blueline for the next 10-15 years.

To validate our claim, we decided to throw Jakob under the microscope and confirm or deny whether the criticisms are warranted. We selected a random game against the host Saginaw Spirit from March 19th, which happened to be the last game of the regular season. The Sting prevailed 6-4, and Chychrun was a big reason why.

1st Period

Shift 1 — Chychrun started on the left side for the opening draw. He immediately challenged a puck carrier in a 1-on-1 situation, closing the gap and extending his stick to alter the shot. There was no room for the shooter to do anything. Chychrun properly released to alter another shot, this time from the left circle. He made another wise release to challenge a third shot with his long stick, but it got through. Chychrun gave his partner room to make a play once after collecting the puck, and got open to receive a breakout pass. He used the wall to move puck up to center but his winger couldn’t handle it, so possession changed. He stayed on the ice in position before making a timely change.

Shift 2: Came right back out after just one shift. Sarnia winger Jordan Kyrou committed a turnover that led to 3-on-2, with Chychrun playing the shooter into a bad-angle shot after identifying a Sarnia winger was covering other attacker. The puck went back the other way then out, and Chychrun took it from between his own circles and made a strong/controlled rush into offensive zone, slowing down at right circle and leading Sarnia center Pavel Zacha with a feather pass through a defender’s legs but the timing was off by a second. Chychrun stayed below circle to force a turnover when Saginaw tried to break out, then returned to his own end. He flubbed a pass inside his own blueline that led to a turnover/chance, but his partner saved a potential break.

Shift 3: Chychrun came right back out after another short rest. He collected a loose puck in own end with time and space, giving a hard cross-ice pass to his partner. He later challenged an opposing rusher with an extended stick at the far boards near blue line, leading to a shot against way wide and over the net. He then raced to cover the slot, identified an opposing pass option in the left circle in order to break up the shot attempt and allow Sarnia to collect and transition up ice.

Shift 4: So now Chychrun is playing every other shift. He retreated back to the slot off a faceoff loss with his stick in a passing lane, then immediately pounced on a forward in the slot to force him into rushed back pass. Chychrun moved to the low slot with his head on a swivel to cover up as the puck moved behind his net. He never left his man or the slot as the puck moved up the boards from around the net. Chychrun tied up man as a shot from the point was released, then chased the same man behind the net for a rebound, tying him up. Chychrun kept him pinned before using his stick and upper body to win a puck battle against two players, then jettisoned the puck with a quick hard around that led to a zone exit and rush up ice, which he joined. Chychrun used his speed to win a foot race to the puck, then swatted it into the zone behind the net, forcing Saginaw defenseman Markus Niemelainen into a turnover. Chychrun took puck and sent it back behind the Saginaw net, allowing Sarnia to run its cycle. He stayed at left point, stepping into a heavy wrist shot from the blue line before heading off for a change after a long and active shift.

Shift 5: Chychrun receives a lengthy rest due to an icing and time out. Saginaw executed a deliberate breakout, and Chychrun fixed the right wing on zone entry into the wall with no room to operate. He won the foot race to the slot after the winger sent it cross ice in what looked like some sort of give and go. The puck wound up in the near corner, but Chychrun correctly provided overwatch from the left circle rather than join the scrum. It ended up paying off as a Saginaw winger escaped from the scrum and would have had an open lane to the net had Chychrun not been there. Chychrun used his active stick and body to knock him off the puck, but Sarnia left wing Anthony Salintri lost his man in the slot behind Chychrun for a chance in front. Chychrun grabbed the loose puck from his own slot and sped up the middle of the ice — a 2-on-4 — and found his right wing waiting for pass at top of right circle for a shot tipped wide from the low slot. Chychrun then raced back to cover up, took a back pass, which he sent hard and safe cross-ice in order to make a change.

Shift 6: Chychrun stepped up at the left point to try and intercept a Markus Niemelainen hard-around off a Saginaw faceoff win, likely because he saw two Sting behind him. The puck bounced over his stick and his partner lost footrace in a 1-on-2. Chychrun raced back to turn possible 2-on-1 into a 2-on-2 with his eyes on puck at left circle but shadowing the right wing in the right circle. A bad-angle shot was taken and stopped for a faceoff, with Chychrun’s man covered in case of a rebound. Off the ensuing faceoff, the Sting took the puck up ice, but Chychrun’s partner gambled on a step up, leading to a 2-on-1 against with just Chychrun back. He directed whomever to take the pass as he was staying with puck carrier Tye Felhaber, who tried to toe drag while smothered so his shot was tipped away by Chychrun. The loose puck went the other way in a 2-on-2 that Chychrun’s speed turned into a 3-on-2, and he positioned himself at the near boards for a one timer but had to send it behind the Saginaw net since the puck was bouncing on him. Pavel Zacha took a holding penalty in the offensive zone, but Chychrun stayed on the ice for the ensuing PK and faceoff in his own end. He grabbed the puck off the faceoff and went back behind his net, but rather than skate into a trap, he went hard around. The clearing attempt was stopped at the point (only safe option he had), and the puck came back in his own end after a successful clear thereafter. He stayed in his lane to smother a puck carrier as the puck ended up in near corner, where he battled before slapping a loose puck hard around again. His clearing attempt was stopped for a second time, and it was fired on net. At this point, Chychrun is exhausted, but he stayed in the slot to challenge a shot from the left circle and get a much-needed change.

Shift 7 (PK/PP): Chychrun comes back with time still on the PK. Unreal, as it feels like he’s been on the ice for five of six straight minutes. Sarnia draws a penalty, so Chychrun on the delayed call takes the puck from the far wall and whips it hard and on the tape, cross ice to start a breakout. He takes a hard, late hit in the process. Chychrun plays right point on the ensuing power play, and weaves with Zacha to take a nice lead and step into a bomb from the right circle that is blocked then cleared. Every pass of his is on the tape. Chychrun stays at the top of the umbrella for most of the time, and it pays off as he intercepts a clearing attempt. Zacha gets set up for a one-time but his stick breaks, then a pass attempt to Chychrun hits the broken stick and clears. Chychrun picks up the loose puck at center and makes a controlled and deliberate zone entry before losing the puck on the goal line in an attempt to go wide and behind the net. The puck stayed in the offensive zone then whistled down so he could change.

Shift 8 (Goal against): Short rest for Chychrun for an offensive-zone draw. Saginaw heads up the ice on a quick pass that splits Sarnia’s forwards and leads to a 3-on-2. Partner Kevin Spinozzi inadvertently backskates into Chychrun and they both fall, leading to Spinozzi’s man being open for a shot and a goal against. Spinozzi was too far off to begin with and his man scored the goal.

2nd Period

Shift 9: Chychrun starts out the second period on the left side for the opening draw. He covered Saginaw’s Connor Brown for a centering feed from behind the net and although he was in front of his man, he probably could have tied up him or his stick better. Sarnia countered and got a whistle, as they changed forwards but kept Chychrun on the ice. The Sting lost the draw and the puck went hard around to left point, where he was involved for a 50/50 battle that saw the puck elude both him and his man. No harm, no foul, as the Sting had a forward at the point covering up. Saginaw countered and Chychrun stepped up again, but he overcommitted and provided the right wing with an open lane to the net, a play eventually foiled by Sarnia’s backchecking winger.

Shift 10 (Goal against): After a lengthy rest, Chychrun lined up on the right side for a defensive-zone draw that Sarnia won. He waited behind the net and beat the forechecker with a chip pass to the near corner to Pavel Zacha, who initiated the breakout. Chychrun was the last man to join the rush and occupied the left point before creeping towards the top of the left circle. A scrum ensued, and he retreated back as Saginaw gained control of the puck. He covered up on a loose puck at center and hit Zacha curling back, but Zacha turned it over trying to skate through four Saginaw players. Saginaw eventually turned it over, and the Sting went up ice as Chychrun’s speed made a 3-on-3 into a 4-on-3, correctly positioning himself as a trailer for Jordan Kyrou, whose turnover led to a Spirit 4-on-2 with a shot wide. Chychrun tracked the shot around the boards but drifted into the right circle, away from his man at the goal line, and a point shot was tipped home.

Shift 11 (PK): Sarnia wins the draw clean and Chychrun wastes no time curling behind his net and firing a hard wrister all the way down the ice. Sarnia’s PK forwards overcommitted and Saginaw entered the zone with ease, trapping the two defensemen. Chychrun held his ground without cheating to one side and kept his stick in the passing lane while positioning his body at a 45-degree angle for flexibility and cutting down his reaction time (Picture 3). The puck carrier saw nothing available and took it wide, then threw it to the point. Chychrun advanced to the top of the circle as Sarnioa formed a diamond, then slowly pounced on right wing at the near corner, roughing him up and stealing the puck for a dish and clear.

PK

Shift 12 (PK): Chychrun came out for a defensive-zone faceoff still on the PK. Chychryn pressed two Spirit along the near wall after some initial puck movement, then whacked at the puck to get it out of the zone. Saginaw curled and countered, and Chychrun used his long reach to knock it away from Niemelainen and out of harms way. Saginaw came right back and Tye Felhaber cut towards the middle but Chychrun smothered him and forced a turnover. The puck was cleared, and Sarnia advanced 3-on-1 shorthanded, but Zacha was robbed by Evan Cormier.

Shift 13 (4-on-4): Chychrun manned the left point for an offensive-zone faceoff, which Sarnia won clean. Chychrun collected the puck and walked the line on his forehand before leading Korostelev with a perfect backhand pass that caught the Saginaw checker out of position. Another faceoff occurred in the offensive-zone, and Chychrun darted for the side of the net where he pressed Markus Niemelainen to lose the puck. Saginaw escaped, with Niemlainen leading the rush, but Chychrun used his stick like a scythe to knock it away, then chip it up to Konecny for a 3-on-1 that Chychrun joined , shooting the puck from the high slot.

Shift 14 (still 4-on-4): After a short break, Chychrun joined the rush up ice then retreated to the point. Saginaw countered and Chychrun backskated on the puck carrier along the right wing before pouncing on him with a quick stick, forcing a dump in rather than an entry. The puck came back to him after a Sarnia rush and his breakout pass hit a skate and caused an offside to Saginaw.

Shift 15: Chychrun lined up on the left side for a defensive-zone faceoff that Sarnia won and cleared, leading to a 3-on-2. The puck was deflected out of play, so Chychrun manned the left point for the ensuing offensive-zone faceoff. Saginaw grabbed the puck and went up ice with Sarnia’s forwards out of position, so Chychrun turns into plastic man (Picture 4), extending to deflect a lead pass at center ice. The puck carrier was able to collect the loose puck and take it wide before cutting to the middle of the slot, but Chychrun hounded him with his stick, forcing the player to skate the puck out of his own zone. He went back behind his net and went coast-to-coast with a beautiful rush but Konecny was offside to nullify the play.

stretch

Shift 16: Chychrun changed on the fly as Matt Mistele raced up ice for a chance. Saginaw countered and Chychrun used a stick check to slow down the Spirit as they crossed the line. He helped the Sting conduct a counter of their own, racing up the ice to join a rush, then creeping into the slot for a loose puck. Saginaw collected and head up ice, and Chychrun used his speed to catch up and even out the numbers.

3rd Period

Shift 17: Chychrun Immediatley takes the puck off a clean faceoff win at center and darts up ice before a dump and chase to the far corner. The puck was cleared and turned into a 1-on-2 for Saginaw, but Chychrun made a very noticeable play. The Saginaw puck carrier was covered moving along the wall and into the corner, but Chychrun’s initial reaction was to check for opposing puck support coming from center (Picture 1) rather than turn his back and provide assistance that was not needed. Chychrun visibly turned his head right before hitting his blue line to notice a second Spirit forward joining the play (Picture 2). This allowed full 2-on-2 coverage and prevented a wide open lane since Chychrun wasn’t eager to support a 1-on-1 battle. He then swooped in to grab a loose puck inside his own blue line and motor up ice before a leaving a backhand drop pass for Kevin Spinozzi to fire on goal from the right circle.

2-on-2 pic 1

2-on-2 pic 2

Shift 18 (PP assist): Chychrun manned the left point for the PP but failed to keep in a moderate clearing attempt up the far wall. He retreated back to his blue line and drew a forechecker towards him until hitting Matt Mistele with a perfect pass to split the forwards and send Sarnia safely into the offensive zone. He won a 50/50 battle near the left circle and fed the puck to Pavel Zacha at the left point, where someone was covering up for him. Travis Konecny scored a goal off a slapper from the point, and Chychrun was credited with the 2nd assist for keeping possession and passing it to Zacha.

Shift 19: Chychrun came back for a defensive zone faceoff after a short rest. The puck was played down the ice, and Sarnia began a cycle, where Chychrun kept the play alive by winning another 50/50 battle and firing the puck from the left point in one motion from towards net.

Shift 20: Sarnia dumped and chased off a neutral-zone faceoff, but the puck came back out to the its blue line, where Chychrun gathered and fired an accurate head man to his partner, who crossed center and dumped it in. Saginaw countered with puck support and Chychrun backed in against the rush, which saw the Spirit execute a play to sneak a man behind him for a chance. In retrospect, Chychrun could have either released from the covered puck carrier at the wall and tie up the man streaking through the slot, or kept his stick in the passing lane. By the time the forward took the pass, he was at a relatively bad angle for a backhander that went wide anyway. Chychrun chased the loose puck and carried up the ice for a 1-on-1, firing a hard wrist shot through a screen from the right circle.

Shift 21: Sarnia tied it up the previous shift, and following an offensive-zone draw, Chychrun took a cross-ice feed from Zacha in the neutral zone and one-timed the puck back across towards two streaking Sting. The puck went high and was cleared by a Saginaw defender, then sent down for Chychrun to execute a weave breakout, taking the puck in stride at his left circle and skating into the Saginaw zone with power. He took the defender wide, then backhanded a centering feed off a stick and on goal for a faceoff. Saginaw won the ensuing draw clean and broke out, with Chychrun maintaining a tight gap on Felhaber, who took a bad-angle shot on goal. The puck went into the near corner, and he was muscling Artem Artemov into the boards while using his stick, which was positioned properly. However, Artemov spun and tripped over the stick, sending Chychrun to the box for a tripping minor. The contact seemed more incidental than anything, but Chychrun was whistled for tripping nonetheless.

Shift 22 (post-PK): Sarnia killed off the penalty and took an icing. Chychrun covered his man in the slot off the defensive-zone draw, then followed Sarnia’s rush up ice. He pinched on an clearing attempt at the left point and skated the puck down to left circle for a centering feed that was kicked away. He went for a change and Travis Konecny scored a goal for the Sting few seconds later.

Shift 23: Chychrun changed on the fly, covering up for a Saginaw zone entry. He tried to line up the right wing along the far boards but pulled up and used his arms to slow him down, but the puck ultimately came back up top, so Chychrun retreated to cover the slot area. The puck went out and back in, and Chychrun absolutely crushed Hodson with a clean hit along the far boards. Critical to the hit was that he wasn’t moving his feet yet still exploded into a bigger forward from a somewhat static position, indicating some serious lower body strength.

Chychrun crunch

Shift 24: After the TV timeout, Chychrun covered Felhaber off the defensive-zone draw and overwatched him from a position in the slot. He pounced on his man behind the net and stayed with him as he curled in front to fire a shot which Chychrun deflected into the crowd with a long stick. He remained on the ice for the next faceoff, positioning himself in the slot to defend against a centering feed which almost snuck through his own goalie.

Shift 25: Another short rest shift for a faceoff in the defensive zone. The puck was cleared down in Saginaw’s end, and the Spirit slowly advanced into Sarnia’s zone. Chychrun was on the left side when his partner collided with him, leaving a lane wide open for a chance. Chychrun’s side was covered and a faceoff followed. Chychrun stayed on the ice for the ensuing defensive-zone draw as Sarnia changed up lines. He stayed in his position in the slot off the draw, then released to provide puck support on a breakout. The puck wound up on his stick a few times before it was carried in by the forwards, and the Sting would draw a penalty from a trip/hold by Niemelainen.

Shift 26 (PPG): Chychrun stayed on the ice for what seems like another never-ending shift, manning the point on the PP. Sarnia won the draw, and he wired a heavy wrister from the blue line with traffic in front that was smothered by goalie Evan Cormier. It looked as if it was a shot intended for a tip-in or screen as his head was up the whole way. He stayed on for the next faceoff, creeping deep into the slot and looking for a loose puck. Cormier was forced to make a huge save on Nikita Korostelev after defenseman Will Petschenig took his time on a clearing attempt. Chychrun stayed on the ice at the right point for the third faceoff of the PP, then drifted to the middle where he hammered a one-timer from just inside the blue line through Cormier’s pads for a PP goal.

Chychrun goal

Shift 27 (PP): Chychrun manned the right point for the offensive-zone draw. Saginaw cleared the puck and a loose puck from center trickled into the Sarnia zone, where Chychrun was involved in yet another 50/50 battle, only this time there was nothing separating him from his goalie. Chychrun not only used his body and speed to angle the player away from the puck, but he kept his balance, quickly turned and attacked the open ice, weaving though a defender then pinpointing a backhand feed in the low slot for a great chance stopped by Cormier.

Shift 28 (PP): Quick change yet again, and Chychrun defends a puck rusher down the right wing with a textbook gap, using his long reach to harass the shot into the corner. He picked up the loose puck behind his net and started a deliberate breakout by slowly exiting his zone, then identifying a seam and attacking it. He slowed down before hitting the hash marks and fired off a quick shot that was blocked by Niemelainen. The loose puck came out to center, where Chychrun collected while backing up, hitting Devon Paliani with a clean, crisp pass which was transitioning into the zone for an entry. The puck squirted free down the ice, and Chychrun stayed back to cover up and take the puck to safety behind his own net. He was pressed, but used the boards to reverse it to his open partner for a clean breakout.