Jakob Chychrun Would Fill Big Blue Jackets Organizational Need

Arizona Coyotes’ defenseman Jakob Chychrun has been the recent subject of many trade rumors. He’s reportedly available now and to the surprise of no one, many teams are expressing interest in his services. Among those many teams according to Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek is the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Marek on both 32 Thoughts the Podcast and then again on Saturday night during the second intermission of Hockey Night in Canada stated that the Blue Jackets are interested in Chychrun.

This certainly does raise some questions. In this space, we’re going to look at the overall situation and see if this move would make sense for the Blue Jackets. In order for us to do that, we have to set the scene.

First we need to know who Chychrun is and how he got to this point. Then we need to understand why he’s reportedly available in a trade. Then we need to review the state of the Blue Jackets to see if and why this move makes sense for them. Then finally, we will review the vast competition that is also interested in him.

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Top defensemen don’t become available in trade often. Chychrun is certainly in that category. Let’s meet him and see how we got to this point.

Who is Chychrun?

Recall in the leadup to the 2016 NHL Draft, there was a buzz surrounding Chychrun. Regarded as one of the best defensemen available in the draft, many experts thought he was a sure-fire top-three pick. However when draft day came, he fell out of the top-15.

Chychrun wasn’t even one of the first four defensemen taken in that draft. Olli Juolevi, Mikhail Sergachev, Jake Bean and Charlie McAvoy all went before Chychrun did. It actually took a trade in order for him to go 16th overall to the Arizona Coyotes. This was the trade where the Coyotes took on the cap hit of Pavel Datsyuk.

The Coyotes landed Clayton Keller seventh overall and then Chychrun 16th overall. Many people thought the Coyotes were one of the biggest winners of draft night as a result. Chychrun did nothing to disappoint early on.

Chychrun made his NHL debut in 2016 and scored his first NHL goal against Carey Price. He went on to score 20 points in 68 games that season after he earned the right to stay with the Coyotes. Then injuries started to creep in.

In the summer of 2017, Chychrun suffered an offseason injury and knee surgery was required. He didn’t return to the Coyotes lineup until December. He went on to score 14 points in 50 games during his second season but his season ended due to a lower-body injury in April.

Arizona Coyotes Jakob Chychrun
Arizona Coyotes Jakob Chychrun overcame significant injuries to become a top defenseman. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Chychrun then had ACL surgery during the 2018 offseason. This was just after he signed a 6-year deal worth $27.6 million. He came back in November finished with 20 points in 53 games. This is where things really started to take off for him.

In his last two full seasons, Chychrun finished with a career-high 12 goals and then 18 goals last season. His 18 goals led the entire NHL in goals for a defenseman. Couple that with his ability to play a shutdown role and you have the makings of one of the up and coming stars in the league.

But now this season, Chychrun has had a rough go of it. In 29 games, he has just two goals and eight points and is a -31. Plus/minus needs to be taken with a grain of salt but there is no question he has struggled. The Coyotes are in a neck-and-neck battle with the Montreal Canadiens for last place in the league. The Coyotes are in a clear rebuild.

Although the Coyotes are in a rebuild, Chychrun still has three seasons left after this one with that $4.6 million cap hit. Why are the Coyotes listening to offers on him?

Why Chychrun Is Available

Let’s face reality. The Coyotes have needs everywhere. They are multiple pieces away from being in the playoff conversation let alone in the contender conversation. It’s fair to say that it could be 4-5 years or even more before they are in a position to contend. This assumes they do everything right on their rebuilding plan.

Chychrun is one of the Coyotes’ best players. With that, they could acquire the things they need to try and help expedite their rebuilding plan. According to Marek, the Coyotes want a young player, a high-end prospect and a first-round pick. Marek references a comparable trade in what the Brent Burns deal was.

Brent Burns San Jose Sharks
An eventual Chychrun deal could look like what the Brent Burns deal was in 2011. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If the Coyotes are more than three years away, listening on Chychrun makes sense. Plus his next contract will be a massive raise assuming he returns to form. With three full years left on the current deal, the Coyotes can maximize a potential return because teams will covet the cap hit and term remaining.

Reviewing the Blue Jackets

If there’s one thing that is true about the Blue Jackets, it’s that they have a very inexperienced blue line overall. Outside of Zach Werenski and Vladislav Gavrikov, the rest of the defense is young and inexperienced. It has shown in their play this season.

Going into Sunday night’s game against the Ottawa Senators, the Blue Jackets have allowed 3.58 goals per game and 34.7 shots against per game. The 3.58 goals against is fifth-worst in the NHL and 34.7 shots against is tied for second worst in the NHL. They give up a lot of goals and shots. For a young defense this is something you expect to see.

Related: Blue Jackets Doomed By Costly Mistakes Against Penguins

Looking down the pipeline prospect wise, the Blue Jackets best defensive prospect is Corson Ceuelmans who is playing at the University of Wisconsin. There’s also Samuel Knazko and Stanislav Svozil who will eventually come in. But the Blue Jackets do not have a true, number-one shutdown defender in the system.

Many experts thought the Blue Jackets would draft a defensemen in the 2021 draft. Simon Edvinsson was available for them but they opted to take Kent Johnson instead. They landed Ceulemans later in the first round. But the need for a top defenseman remains in the organization.

That’s why the Blue Jackets are interested in Chychrun. In fact I can confirm that the Blue Jackets sent a group to New Jersey on Wednesday to watch the Coyotes/Devils game. Within that group was GM Jarmo Kekalainen and AGM Josh Flynn.

Jarmo Kekalainen Columbus Blue Jackets
Jarmo Kekäläinen was in New Jersey Wednesday to watch Coyotes/Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Acquiring Chychrun absolutely makes sense for the Blue Jackets. It would fill a big organizational need. Chychrun would come right in and play a lot. He’s like Werenski in that he can play over 25 minutes a night consistently. But it’s what Chychrun can do in a shutdown role that is of interest to the Blue Jackets.

The Blue Jackets have young talent on defense in the likes of Bean and Adam Boqvist. But they are not shutdown defenders. Chychrun can play that role and add a level of physicality to the team that is sorely missing.

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It also turns out the Blue Jackets have the necessary pieces in order to make this deal work. Think of a baseline deal along the lines of Adam Boqvist, Liam Foudy and a first-round pick. The Blue Jackets have two firsts in the 2022 draft thanks to the Seth Jones deal plus their own.

You do have to wonder if the Blue Jackets think they need an upgrade on defense, someone who is experienced, can play the shutdown role and can add offense in any situation. Chychrun in that sense is the complete package. He would make the blue line better because of what all he can do.

Plenty of Competition

The last thing we need to look at is who else is interested in Chychrun. To the surprise of no one, many teams are interested in him. The Rangers and Panthers have reportedly expressed interest. The Panthers are interesting because Chychrun’s father used to be a part of their organization plus he grew up in Boca Raton. It’s no secret the Panthers could use an upgrade on their blue line.

As for the Rangers, they’re in a similar situation where they could use a top defender to add to their deep forward group. They’re in a good position to make these playoffs so adding Chychrun would make sense. Apparently Vitali Kravtsov has been offered to the Coyotes in a potential deal.

But it’s not just these teams. According to Marek, one-third of the league has expressed interest in Chychrun. So there is plenty of competition which could lead to a bidding war. How far are the Blue Jackets willing to go in order to acquire him?

I do not think they’d want to part with Johnson, Sillinger or Ceulemans in a deal. But they have other pieces plus the multiple firsts to potentially use. With many interested parties, the Coyotes can wait and see if someone’s offer stands out.

In Summary

At the end of the day, there is no question the Blue Jackets have interest in Chychrun. He would fulfill a huge organizational need and would be under team control for three seasons at a very reasonable cap hit.

However the Blue Jackets will have plenty of competition also looking to acquire Chychrun. Just how far are the Blue Jackets willing to go with an offer before they believe the asking price is too much?

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Players like Chychrun don’t become available too often. Good on the Blue Jackets for at least doing their due diligence, including sending top management to a recent game to get a live viewing in. Chychrun would change the look and feel of the blue line and could expedite a return trip to the playoffs in future seasons.

This is an ever-developing story that could change in a flash but stay tuned. The Blue Jackets are definitely in this conversation. There’s no question about that.