The Jakob Chychrun tale took on somewhat of a life of its own over the course of the 2015-16 season. Once thought to be among the best talents available this year, the Sarnia Sting rearguard has slid down most rankings and gets plenty of shade thrown his way as a result. There are plenty that believe that he’s still the top defenceman available though, so where does the truth lay?
As always, the truth rests somewhere in the middle, and a deeper look into his season and the narratives that ensued shows a promising young player with a lot of physical tools who was undone by expectations more than anything else.
Jakob Chychrun checks in at #8 on our draft rankings.
Age: 18 (March 31st, 1998)
Birthplace: Boca Raton, Florida, USA (Plays Nationally for Canada)
Frame: 6′ 2″, 198 lbs
Draft Year Team: Sarnia Sting
Accomplishments/Awards: GTMMHL Kraft Cup Champion, GTMMHL Scotiabank Playoff Champion, OHL Cup Silver Medal (2013-14); OHL First All-Rookie Team, OHL Third All-Star Team (2014-15); CHL Top Prospects Game, OHL Second All-Star Team (2015-16)
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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.
Son of former No. 47 overall pick (1984) Jeff Chychrun, Jakob has been on the prospect radar for years, as one of the top players in the 1998 age group for a while; that includes his being the top pick in his OHL draft year. Chychrun was one of the better defenders in the OHL this season. He’s a high-end skater, with excellent agility. Chychrun has above-average skill, and while he isn’t a dangler, he can evade pressure well and move the puck very effectively on the man advantage. Chychrun thinks the game pretty well defensively. He’s an advanced positional player, and given his very strong frame and great work ethic, he is a very reliable penalty killer. Offensively, he shows the ability to move the puck well and make some skill plays, but he can make some bad decisions and doesn’t show high-end creativity.
Only a few of the strongest draft-eligible prospects possess the type of skill to impact the game in all three zones, and by impact we mean significantly alter the course of a given game. Jakob Chychrun, Sarnia’s towering blueliner who last season quickly established himself as one of the OHL’s most complete players, is in our view a cornerstone defender with star potential, and the best blueliner for the 2016 draft. He can beat you inside and out, skate through you or around, and either nail you to the boards or laughingly absorb a hit at full speed. He can easily be classified as a two-way defender, but what makes him unique among his peers is the way he equally divides his elite play in accordance with the game situation. Chychrun’s NHL bloodlines (father Jeff was an NHL defenseman) and God-given physical attributes presents opponents with a tough matchup on paper, but his ability to think the game at an extremely high level is what makes him such a tantalizing prospect. And while injury is an inevitable part of the game, the ability to rebound and perform and produce on a consistent basis is generally what separates the stars from the pretenders.
When he’s defending from the circles and below, he possesses the uncanny ability to successfully differentiate between when to pressure the opposing puck possessor and when to support the friendly. When defending the rush, he has an active stick that can fix an oncoming rusher into no man’s land, and he’s lightning quick on the loose pucks he creates to quickly (and we mean quickly) transition up the ice with speed. He’s a hard and accurate passer, and owns a heavy shot that he can launch over shot blockers after walking the line for an open lane.
Chychrun may in fact still be the draft most “complete” defenceman in terms of his ability to impact all three zones. While Sergachev’s rushing ability and Juolevi’s playmaking are more impressive, Chychrun is the most capable defender in his own zone, the most punishing physical, and has the most impressive raw tools including an absolute cannon of a shot.
Despite these advantages, Chychrun finds himself tumbling down the draft rankings as the big day approaches, and there are no shortage of observers out there who are anxious to throw shade on the big blueliner. But that doesn’t mean he’s deserving of it. His slide down the charts has as much to do with his past as his present, and more to do with his peers passing him than he himself disappointing.
The biggest reason that many are considering Chychrun’s 2015-16 a disappointment is that he burst onto the OHL scene with a phenomenal rookie season. 18 months it was widely considered that he would have a solid chance at challenging Auston Matthews for the first overall spot. Even in the preseason this year, he was ranked second by most services. Unfortunately, things haven’t gone quite as planned since then.
Points-wise, his season still wasn’t anything to scoff at. He finished the year with the third most points (49) and primary points (29) after first time draft eligible OHL defencemen. He was also second among that group in power play points with 28. However, the numbers simply fell below what was expected of him going into the season. And maybe that was the problem: expectation.
The expectation that Chychrun would follow up his fabulous rookie campaign with an even more fabulous draft year turned out to be a bit too much to ask, and that’s not really Chychrun’s fault. He dealt with some shoulder problems here and there, and it seemed that the expectations placed upon began to creep into his mind. One of the most common complaints about Chychrun’s play in 2015-16 is that he was “trying to do too much”, as if he knew that great things were expected of him and he was desperately trying to match up.
Unfortunately, he fell short of those lofty expectations. This too was not lost on Chychrun – falling short of was people were hoping he’d accomplish seemed to weigh heavily on him. At the combine, his openness and honesty was praised by many a scout, though his self-reflection evidently turned to self-deprecation, with one scout mentioning that “he was way too hard on himself about his season. I finally had to stop him.”
There is a lesson to be had here, and that is that prospects need to be evaluated based on their raw performance – not their performance with reference to what you expected of them. Subtracting his draft-1 season, Chychrun would look like a high quality defender, one worthy of a top 10 selection – and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Free of expectation, fans and analysts could be pleased to see a big, toolsy defenceman with a lot of potential, and clearly some areas that need work.
Among those are his game-to-game consistency and his on-ice decision making. Chychrun has a tendency to skate himself into trouble – of course this might have a lot to do with that “trying to do too much” issue we went over earlier.
Chychrun rates highly in regards to pGPS, with 81.3 per cent of comparables going on to become regular NHL players. At roughly the same height and age as defensive peer Olli Juolevi, and with similar production, Chychrun shares a number of successful matches with his Finnish counterpart, including Kevin Hatcher, Jeff Brown, and Drew Doughty. Though his percentage is slightly lower than Juolevi’s 83 per cent, his pGPS P/GP of 0.42 is slightly higher.
Though he has numerous areas that need polishing, he still has the potential to be a top pairing defender, if not the cornerstone that the scouting world once thought he could be. At worst, even if the production doesn’t come, he should still be a minute munching defender – he’s considered to be a near-lock to make the NHL in at least some capacity, giving him one of the highest floors in the draft class – he’s a “safe” pick, if you will.
Additionally, despite his movement on the board, Chychrun is still a very valuable prospect. Picking him in the fourth to sixth spots would not necessarily be advisable at this point, but it also shouldn’t be considered a reach. Chychrun isn’t the type of defenceman that you “settle” for, especially if your organization lacks a stud. He simply wouldn’t be considered the best player available in those spots.