Talk to any veteran coach or scout and they’ll tell you it’s not how high you’re drafted that matters; it’s what you do after that. Jakob Chychrun slipped to 16th in the 2016 draft, but every defenseman taken before him is back in junior or college right now.
The past year has been crazy for Chychrun, who was just informed that the Arizona Coyotes would be keeping him past the nine-game mark – significant because his entry-level contract activates in Game 10.
“He played 23 minutes last night,” Tippett told reporter Craig Morgan on Tuesday. “Do you think we’re just going to say ‘hey, go away now?’ ”
Heading into the 2015-16 campaign with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, the big defenseman was thought of as a top-3 prospect for the draft, behind Auston Matthews and Jesse Puljujarvi. But as the season wore on, other blueliners passed him. By the end of the campaign, it was almost a lock that London’s Olli Juolevi and Windsor’s Mikhail Sergachev would go before him.
We ranked Chychrun ninth in Draft Preview, with the caveat that one player always seems to get picked on in his draft year and the Sting standout seemed to carry that burden in 2016. On draft night in Buffalo, Juolevi and Sergachev did indeed go off the board first, but so did fellow blueliners Jake Bean and Charlie McAvoy. Chychrun was still on the board when Coyotes GM John Chayka made the Pavel Datsyuk trade with Detroit – and Chychrun’s availability was a major factor in the acquring a first-round selection in the deal.
Behind the scenes, you could tell Chychrun was rattled. He put on a brave face for the cameras, but he’s a competitive kid and the idea of sliding to No. 16 clearly wasn’t on his agenda. But that’s all in the past now and Chychrun is living the dream. Not only is he surviving in the NHL, he’s thriving.
Sure, the Coyotes are the worst team in the NHL right now, but we knew the rebuild was going to be a process; the important thing was getting The Kids some good experience. Chychrun has done his part, registering the best relative Corsi numbers on the entire team and putting up three points through eight games – including his first NHL goal. As Morgan reports in his story, the Coyotes are still working with him on the defensive side of the game, but at 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds with great mobility, the physical tools are there to make an impact long-term. So Chychrun will continue on in the pros for now. The next barrier is 41 games – that’s when the teenager would move one year closer to free agency, though Chayka doesn’t seem concerned about it. There’s also the matter of the world juniors, which Canada is hosting. Chychrun didn’t make the team last year and he may be too busy in the NHL to go this year, but based on how he has played for Arizona, he’d be a huge addition. Either way, Chychrun is proving that sliding in the draft is far from the end of the world when your whole career is ahead of you.