Weight: 215 pounds
Date of birth: March 31, 1998. Boca Raton, Florida
OHL Draft: Round 1, 1st overall, 2014 Priority Selection
Elite: a select part of a group that is superior to the rest in terms of ability or qualities.
Why did I begin with the definition of elite? It’s become part of a broad characterization loosely attached to players; it should be restricted to the best of the best. That’s not to say a player can’t have a particular elite skill such as: skating or shot quality.
Will Chychrun fit the definition elite? Yes.
If you expect a franchise defenceman, look no further than Chychrun. He is everything you ask for in a defenseman and more. He has good size and fantastic skating to go along with it. As he grew accustomed to the faster pace of the OHL last season, the forward turned defenceman became harder to beat one on one.
He has elite vision and his hockey sense is unparalleled by any other defenceman in this draft class. He knows when to rush with the puck and when to dish off to a teammate with pinpoint accuracy. He is always one play ahead. Chychrun’s power play skills are also unrivaled. He has an Al MacInnis shot with the accuracy of a Raymond Bourque.
Chychrun is a communicator on the ice and on the bench. Despite his young age he has no problem communicating with players on the bench or directing traffic on the ice. He has tremendous leadership qualities – he was named an alternate captain as a rookie – and will one day captain an NHL team.
Internationally, Chychrun played for team Ontario at the World Hockey Challenge Under-17 in 2014 as a member of the Toronto Jr Canadiens – a rarity. He missed the tournament in 2015 due to an injury. He also sat out the Ivan Hlinka Memorial in August with an injury.
The above mentioned tournaments are not sanctioned by the International Ice Hockey Federation; therefore Chychrun is not committed to play for Canada. He has dual citizenship and can play for either Canada or the United States, but once he commits, he can no longer switch allegiances. Chychrun has stated he wants to play for Canada and he should (will in my opinion) be a member of Team Canada at this year’s World Junior Championships. If he falls short, the US could welcome him with open arms if he so chooses.
All this has drawn comparisons to Aaron Ekblad – the first defenceman to receive exceptional status and the first overall pick in the 2014 NHL Draft. Personally, I believe Chychrun has slightly higher offensive abilities than Ekblad and is a better skater. Ekblad is slightly ahead of Chychrun in other categories at the same stage of their careers, but overall, the slight advantage goes to Chychrun.
I spoke with two people who have an incredible eye for talent: Brock Otten, who has his own excellent OHL blog here and Brendan Ross, Director of Scouting for TheScout.ca and head scout for DobberProspects.
OHLW: Chychrun had the opportunity to, and decided against, applying for exceptional status with Hockey Canada. How do you think that helped him in his preparation for what turned out to be a fantastic rookie season?
Otten: I’m of the opinion that if you’re talented and dedicated, it doesn’t matter what route you take, you’ll find success. By delaying his entry into the OHL, Chychrun was able to play for an exceptionally talented Toronto Jr. Canadiens club. While he missed the OHL Cup with a shoulder injury, he was incredibly important to that team. He also still got to suit up for the Team Ontario at the U17’s (as an underager), despite not playing in the OHL. Bottom line is that Chychrun likely sat down with his family and decided that he wasn’t ready for that jump yet. As others have found out (especially Sean Day recently), that exceptional status tag is a tough burden to carry sometimes. The expectations can be tough to deal with. By playing a year of MM and allowing his game to mature, he was able to grow as a player at both ends of the ice. So far, it’s proved to be a pretty smart choice.
Ross: From my understanding Chychrun grew up playing the game as a forward so opting against applying for exceptional status really allowed Jakob to focus on refining the aspects of his defensive game. He’s a natural athlete so adjusting to the physical demands of a different position came easier for him but the extra time gave him an opportunity to develop into a more complete player and that was evident throughout his minor midget draft year as he just kept improving with each passing game.
OHLW: There are some that believe entering his draft year that he is at the same level Aaron Ekblad was when entering his draft year. What are your thoughts on the comparison?
Otten: I actually thought that Chychrun was better than Ekblad during their 16/17 year old seasons. So I’d actually agree with that statement. Love Aaron and he improved so much over the course of his OHL career (especially as a skater and offensively), but Chychrun is the best two-way defender the OHL has seen since Drew Doughty IMO. Complete package and a true franchise defender. In comparison to Aaron, I think at the same age, Jakob displays a more natural offensive ability, in combination with better mobility. Just has to stay healthy.
Ross: The first time I watched Chychrun skate in his minor midget season I remember thinking and reporting that he appeared as good as (and possibly better) than the former Sun County Panther but that all has to be taken with a grain of salt. Although they play the same position, are similar in style and natural ability, they were certainly different kids with much different backgrounds and also playing in different leagues at the same age (Aaron in the OHL at 15 and Chychrun in the GTHL at 15). With that said, there are a lot of similarities with the two of them – first and foremost, their respect for the game and professional approach. One could certainly say that Chychrun is the better skater of the two while Ekblad likely holds the edge in power and strength. The elder Ekblad, as expected, is much more mature on the defensive side of the puck while Chychrun has the ability to create offense better on his own (end to end rushes, etc.) but that also comes with some risks. Comparisons aside, it’ll be a treat comparing these 1st overall OHL picks throughout their professional careers.
OHLW: What would you say his single greatest asset is?
Otten: That’s a tough question. The answer now may not be the answer at the end of the season. He’s such a complete player. If I had to pick something, I feel that his offensive hockey sense, in particular his ability to find holes in opposing defences to get in scoring position, is incredibly impressive for a player his age. He could score 25 goals this year.
Ross: Without a doubt his skating ability. His advanced and effortless mobility provides him advantages both offensively and defensively. Propelled by an elongated stride that provides both power and finesse in crisp edges, Chychrun is capable of bursting up ice in dazzling rushes and then quickly retreat to get back defensively. His ability to quickly close gaps is aided by quick changes in direction and high-end awareness. If I were to point to one single physical skill that makes Chychrun an elite talent, it’s definitely his skating abilities.
OHLW: If you can find a weakness in his game, or something that he needs to improve on, what would you say that would be?
Otten: Other than keeping that shoulder healthy, I think Chychrun is still learning to use his size consistently in the defensive end. This is something I expect a improvement in this year. He’s shown a willingness to engage off the rush and will throw the odd big hit, but playing with a ton of intensity in front of the net and in the corners is the next step to being a consistently physical defender. Showed that at times last year, but would love to see him become one of the toughest guys in the league to play against.
Ross: I had a feeling that this question was coming since everyone, including Jakob himself, is looking for areas to improve. Even after thinking long and hard, outside of his physical durability, it’s very difficult to pinpoint a weakness to his game. His injuries, specifically his shoulder problems, have been well documented over the last several seasons so it’s no secret that he’ll need to stay healthy in his draft season to dispel those concerns. Even with a well-rounded game, Chychrun can always find areas to improve. His natural puck moving abilities will certainly get people saying that he’ll need to improve his defensive game but in reality, his defensive awareness is very strong and an area he excels in. His tendency to activate into the rush presents opportunities for opposing teams to exploit his coverage but in today’s game where defenders are encouraged to hold the line and act as a fourth forward, that tendency is an asset. I think Jakob would probably tell you himself that he wants to become a defender that can be used in all situations at the next level but also one that can be especially trusted in shutting down top players. That is an area that even the most seasoned veterans must continually work on so Chychrun will make it a priority as well.
OHLW: Chychrun is currently ranked number two behind Auston Matthews in many draft rankings. Is there any scenario where you could see him seriously challenging Matthews for first overall?
Otten: Probably two scenarios. One, Matthews disappoints in Switzerland or he gets hurt. Or two, Chychrun has an incredible year, challenges for the Max Kaminsky (Top defender of the OHL), plays a role on the WJC team, and leads the Sting to a solid year…and a team looking for a franchise defender takes him first (god help us if the Oilers pick first again).
Ross: Absolutely. It’s a long draft year for these kids and there are too many examples of non-linear development curves. Matthews, Chychrun and several other eligible forwards all possess elite skill sets to challenge for 1st overall but at the moment, its Matthews followed by Chychrun. At this point in time, Chychrun holds a sizeable lead as the top defenseman available with only Olli Juolevi, Dante Fabbri and Kale Clague as contenders in his rear-view mirror. With Auston Matthews playing in the Swiss professional league, it makes the 1st overall watch especially intriguing. As previously mentioned, Chychrun needs to remain healthy and lead his Sarnia Sting team deep into the OHL playoffs to really challenge Matthews at the top.
OHLW: Chychrun’s game reminds you most of which current or past NHL player?
Otten: Not a big comparisons kind of guy. But…the guy that immediately came to mind was Rob Blake.
Ross: Player comparisons are the bane of my existence but I will bite. In terms of style, Jakob Chychrun plays a lot like Drew Doughty – possessing poise, confidence and great hockey instincts. Chychrun may be a better skater than Doughty but I see a similar NHL impact moving forward.