When we wrote up our thoughts on the opening night roster for the Columbus Blue Jackets this fall, we pinned Yegor Chinakhov to start the season in the AHL, with the Cleveland Monsters. The thought is, it’s better to have talented guys playing more minutes, than sitting in the press box. But a strong camp and excellent play in the preseason have Yegor pushing for ice time in the NHL.
It’s a similar story to the one he wrote last season; most people had Chinakhov slated to spend time in the AHL to hone his game and learn the North American style. But he played just one game for the Monsters, scoring one goal before being promoted back to Columbus due to injuries. Once he was in the NHL, they simply couldn’t send him back down because of his strong play.
He had a decent rookie season in Columbus, though not overwhelming. He played in 62 games, scoring 7 goals and 14 points. His skating and shot jump off the page at you immediately, and you can see big goal scoring potential with this player. But it was his work ethic away from the puck that really kept him around. He stands out because he uses his speed to backcheck and take away passing options for attacking forwards. He also goes into the corners for puck battles, and doesn’t shy away from the physical play.
While it would have been nice to see greater offensive output, I don’t think Yegor got enough credit for his all-around play last season. A lot of people see that -27 rating and the red flags go up, but bear in mind that even a strong two-way player like Oliver Bjorkstrand held a -35 rating last season. Chinakhov was far from perfect, but the experience he gained by simply joining those puck battles and working hard defensively is invaluable. He was in the right places, now he just needs to learn what to do when he’s there.
The only reason he’s hard to pencil into the lineup right now is because of the logjam of forwards seemingly ahead of him on the depth chart. But early on, his preseason play is dictating that he should arguably be higher on that depth chart, maybe even ready for a top-9 role with this group of forwards.
The biggest hurdle he might be facing at the moment, is that every other forward competing for ice time around him has been pretty good as well. Kent Johnson, Kirill Marchenko, Justin Danforth – even James Neal, are all playing well and producing for the team in the preaseason games. All of these guys are going to be tough cuts for this team for a variety of reasons; so it’s important for Yegor to keep pushing and working hard each and every shift. If he does that, I don’t see how they can start the season without him in the lineup.
Want your voice heard? Join the Union And Blue team!