The Winnipeg Jets at the Draft: Jakob Chychrun

Before I get any further with this article, let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: Jakob Chychrun pronounces his last name Chick-run. There, hopefully that clears that up.

In case you missed it, the Winnipeg Jets were officially eliminated from playoff contention with the loss to Buffalo on Saturday, March 25. It was all but a formality at this point, as Jets nation has been all about the Tank For Matthews since the Andrew Ladd trade, and possibly before that. So now it’s official. The Jets have nothing to play for but pride, and next year’s ice time, and are battling only for position in the lottery race.

As exciting at it is to think of Auston Matthews in a Jets jersey the reality is, at present, the Jets have just a 7.5 percent chance of landing the number one overall pick. In fact, they have, at present, a better chance of drafting outside the top four than of landing the coveted first selection. Curse their recent two-game winning streak! Modest though it was, it may have ultimately done more harm than good.

So, with that in mind, the Jets have a myriad of possible scenarios in front of them before the April 30 draft lottery. So, for the next little while, I’ll be trying to familiarize Jets fans with the players that might be slipping on the team’s colours at the draft in June, starting with Chychrun, the big, well-rounded defenseman who is the consensus top blueliner in the draft.

Aaron Ekblad 2.0?

Okay, so maybe that’s a heavy load to lay on Chychrun before he’s even drafted, but the similarities between Chychrun and Ekblad are apparent. Both were described as mature beyond their years and likely NHL-ready prior to their draft, both were defenseman drafted first overall in the OHL draft and expected help save a struggling franchise, and both possess physical tools and willingness to use them, even though (much like Ekblad) physicality is just another tool in Chychrun’s toolbox, not a defining element of his game.

In fairness, Chychrun is slightly smaller than Ekblad (Ekblad is 6’4, Chychrun 6’2) and he didn’t come close to hitting Ekblad’s amazing 23 goals in 58 games in his draft year (though 11 goals and 49 points for a draft-eligible defenseman is nothing to turn your nose up at). So no, Chychrun is not likely to be as immediately impactful as Ekblad was for Florida upon entering the NHL. That said, that the comparison is even being made is a testament to how strong a player Chychrun is, and how important he could be for the Jets in the future.

A Full Toolbox

Removing the (rather unfair, I have to admit) comparisons to Ekblad, Chychrun is a great player in his own right, and one the Jets will surely be tempted by wherever they draft in June. Elite Prospects describes him as “an unyielding two-way defenseman” with a “toolbox bursting at the seams”. In short, a do-it-all defender. Name me a team in the NHL that couldn’t use another one of those at any given moment.

Chychrun is offensively capable, as his numbers show, defensively sound and getting more so all the time, earning praise from Sarnia Sting owner and coach Derian Hatcher (who was a solid defensive defenseman at the NHL level himself), and physically ready for the NHL. He brings a booming shot, a sound hockey mind, and (there’s no getting around the importance of this to the Jets) shoots left.

Look at the right side on defense in Winnipeg and you see a pretty solid crew, including Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba and Tyler Myers. Look at the left side and you’ll wonder if you’re looking at the same team or even the same league. Toby Enstrom, Ben Chiarot and Mark Stuart don’t exactly inspire the same level of confidence as Byfuglien, Trouba and Myers.

The Jets need help on the left side, and while Josh Morrissey could help shore up that position in the future, he doesn’t project to have the same NHL impact as the best defenseman in the 2016 draft. Chychrun could be an anchor on the Jets’ left flank for years to come, and could be a major help in both keeping the puck out of the Jets’ net and depositing it in the other teams. He’d also add another laser-like shot to their power play.

Depending on where the Jets draft, there’s no guarantee Chychrun will still be around. Lots of teams need defensive help, and while Olli Juolevi may be nipping at his heels according to some, Chychrun remains the consensus best defenseman available. This is, after all, the kid who was nominated as the OHL’s most outstanding rookie and best defenseman after scoring 16 goals in 42 games as a 16-year old last year.

Injuries have been a concern for Chychrun at times, and the Jets lack of scoring punch may cause them to look elsewhere on draft day (more on that next time). Still, if the Jets come away from the 2016 NHL draft with Chychrun wearing one of their jerseys, I’ll chalk that up as a big win.