Yegor Chinakhov has slowly worked into a top-six role amongst Blue Jacket forwards, and early returns are very positive. Though he started the season slowly from a numbers standpoint, over the last couple of weeks his productivity has picked way up. Quietly, he’s becoming one of the most reliable offensive threats on the team.
Coming into the season, many had written Yegor Chinakhov off as a guy who probably needed some time in the AHL. Maybe he would be on the outside looking in, as guys like Kent Johnson and Kirill Marchenko started pushing for ice time. But it’s been quite the opposite – Chinakhov is the one who has brought his game this season.
Originally the team’s first round selection (#21 overall) at the 2020 NHL Draft, Yegor Chinakhov will probably always be remembered as the guy nobody knew anything about. The networks scrambled to find notes and even cut to commercial after his name was announced by GM Jarmo Kekalainen – who stood steadfast in saying that Yegor was in their top-10 for the entire draft. (Kudos to Craig Button for being prepared here)
Just two years later, they seem to have been absolutely correct in snagging this player at that spot. Chinakhov currently sits 8th in scoring amongst all players taken at this draft. The 7 players that have been more productive thus far were taken 1st, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 12th, 13th, and 18th overall.
After the draft, we heard all of the things people were saying about his shooting ability. Former head coach Bob Hartley compared his release to Joe Sakic, and if anyone would know, it’s him – he coached them both. We even saw highlights of him shooting the puck and making plays.
But what you don’t always see in highlights or showcase videos, and what has most impressed me about Yegor, is his overall work ethic. He’s surprised me from the moment he stepped onto the ice in Columbus with his willingness to back-check, and his overall game on both sides of the puck. No, it isn’t perfect. Yes, he still has a lot to work on. But the effort and willingness to learn are both there, and it’s starting to pull together for him.
In his first season in the NHL, Chinakhov scored 7 goals, 14 points, and finished with a -27 rating. None of these numbers stand out, and honestly, he was in way over his head most of the time last year. To say this season also started out similarly rough, may be an understatement. Through the first 3 games, he was held scoreless and carried a -5 rating.
But since that cold start, through the last 16 games he’s scored 4 goals and 11 points; highlighted by five points in his last six games. He had back-to-back games with 2 assists in October, and has been quietly producing points ever since.
Even when the offense isn’t coming through, you notice him on the ice. He skates really well for his size and does his best to help out in the defensive zone. He tracks pucks well and has been a better passer than we expected. He has an infectious personality that makes him a fan favorite. Most of all, when he lets that shot go, it really is something special:
All of this adds up to a guy who is quietly working on a big season. At his current rate, he’s on pace to finish just shy of 50 points if he can stay healthy. For a guy in his second year in the league – particularly one who struggled so much last year – this is really impressive. He’s doing this all with mostly third line minutes, though his average time on ice does seem to be trending up. Which makes sense, he’s tied for third on the team in scoring.
It’s time to stop talking about Yegor Chinakhov as possibly being part of the future, and start talking about him as a current top-six mainstay. He’s becoming a core piece of this team already, at just 22 years old.
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