The Columbus Blue Jackets needed a spark on Friday night. They got a big one from one of their bright up and coming young players.
Yegor Chinakhov scored in the first period and then scored the only goal in the shootout to lift the Blue Jackets to a 3-2 win over the Minnesota Wild. In the process, he is starting to show flashes of what his true potential could be. His teammates are noticing too.
Setting the Scene
For Chinakhov, this goes all the way back to his draft year. When the Blue Jackets selected him in the first round, it had some draft experts scrambling to find out who he was.
When everyone saw what he was, there was quite the divide. On one hand, there were those that thought the Blue Jackets were crazy making this pick. On the other hand, there were those that saw his lethal shot and thought they potentially landed a steal.
While it’s certainly been an up and down season adjusting to the league, Chinakhov is certainly starting to show everyone who he is. He played a key role in helping the Blue Jackets secure two points on Friday.
The Blue Jackets had some power play chances early in the game. Chinakhov found himself on the second unit. He also found himself open in the left circle. Jake Bean found him. Then it was a 1-0 Blue Jackets’ lead thanks to his lethal shot. That marked Chinakhov’s first power-play goal in his NHL career.
Everyone knows about Chinakhov’s shot. But not everyone knows that he can play a well-rounded game. He only played 10:19 in the game but he was dangerous when on the ice. He was especially dangerous in overtime.
Out of a little bit of necessity thanks to the potential injuries to Jake Voracek and Patrik Laine, Chinakhov was given overtime ice time. He almost won the game on two different occasions thanks to his speed and creativity. Although he didn’t score, it was a sign that confidence is starting to come for him.
Chinakhov’s overtime was good enough that coach Brad Larsen allowed him to shoot second in the shootout. His shot beat Kaapo Kahkonen. Elvis Merzlikins then stopped Kirill Kaprizov and the game was over.
On a night when the Blue Jackets lacked energy for much of the game until late, Chinakhov gave his team a spark. He’s not going to get the attention of other rookies, but people should start taking notice now.
Chinakhov’s performance certainly was not lost on his teammates. Zach Werenski admitted to having a conversation about Chinakhov with Boone Jenner. Let him explain what was said.
“I was having a conversation with Booner maybe a week ago in practice as we were working on the power play,” Werenski said. “I went on the ice early with Chinakhov before and I was working with (Kenny McCudden) and him. I told Booner when he really figures this league out, it’s going to be scary for other teams because I think you can see the flashes of it.”
“This is a hard league. He comes from overseas and bigger ice. I think he’s done a great job of coming over here and playing his game. But it’s exciting and the future he has ahead of him. I think he’s seen glimpses of it. I think his ceiling is sky high. So it’s fun to see.”
Larsen has said all along that he believes Chinakhov is going to be a great player someday. He reiterated that again on Friday. But he also noted that this is still all new for Chinakhov and the other young players.
“I think he’s going to be a tremendous player,” Larsen said of Chinakhov. “He is a good player now and I think there’s a ton of upside. I think him, (Cole Sillinger) a little bit, they’ve hit a wall these last few games. They’ve never played this amount of games especially this kind of schedule. You can’t talk about it. You can’t teach it. You gotta go through it.”
“They get some scars through this. They learn how to play when they’re tired and how to manage their game when they’re tired. I thought Chinny gave us great legs in overtime. (He had) two tremendous shifts. He almost buried it. He drove the guy wide. You see that speed. That’s what we want to see more of. Obviously 3-on-3 there’s more ice. But that’s one of his weapons is his speed and not just his shot.”
“They’re learning the grind in the NHL and it’s hard games right now. The points are at a premium right now. Teams are playing harder so it’s going to be a great experience for them.”
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Chinakhov now has 7-5-12 in 48 games this season. It perfectly resembles the season he has had. When he gets a chance to score, there’s a chance it goes in. But also he continues to learn the finer points of the game especially on the defensive end.
In terms of his development from Game 1 until now, you can see the improvement. You can also see the confidence growing with each passing game. As each game passes, Chinakhov continues to show everyone who he is.
If he continues to have performances like Friday night, we’ll never have to ask who Chinakhov is again.
- The obvious concern is the status of Voracek and Laine after each took separate knee-to-knee hits late in the game. Voracek came back to the bench but did not play in overtime. Larsen had no update on either but did say he’s hoping for the best here.
- Voracek was clipped by Marcus Foligno. There was no penalty called. This was the latest example of yet another blown call that seems to be happening daily in the NHL. We’ll see if Player Safety will step in but no word as of this writing.
- Laine was hit by Jonas Brodin in overtime when he tried cutting across the ice. He limped to the Blue Jackets’ room and didn’t return. If both players are out for an extended period, that could be the crushing blow on an already tough playoff race.
- Werenski scored the tying goal with 32 seconds left in the game. The best way to respond to the Voracek hit was to put the puck in the back of the net. They did just that. The goal was the second latest tying goal by a defenseman in franchise history. Seth Jones scored with 29 seconds left on Mar 20, 2021.
- The win marks the Blue Jackets’ 19th come from behind win this season, among the tops in the NHL. This young group just keeps finding a way. They are one comeback win short of their franchise record of 20 set in 2005-06 and 2018-19.
- The Blue Jackets now lead the league in wins when trailing after two periods with eight.
- The Blue Jackets are 10-1-2 after regulation this season including 4-1 in the shootout.
- Merzlikins made 36 saves on route to his 20th win of the season, marking the first time in his career he has reached that mark.
- The team is off Saturday and will hold a morning skate Sunday in advance of their game against the Vegas Golden Knights. Stay tuned Saturday for any updates on Voracek or Laine.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.