One of the first pieces of the rebuild puzzle, Yegor Chinakhov is often forgotten when we’re talking about the future core of this team. But, he’s an important skill player, who seemed to be taking steps in the right direction before an ankle injury ended his NHL season prematurely.
Chinakhov is one of the more famous Jarmo Kekalainen draft picks in the GM’s tenure here. Aside from picking Pierre-Luc Dubois third overall (and in hindsight, that was the correct pick) – Chinakhov may be the most shocking first round selection the team has ever made. When his name was announced as the 21st overall pick at the 2020 NHL Draft, the draft analysts found themselves scrambling for notes.
But as with Dubois, the Blue Jacket scouting staff seem to be onto something here. They talked about having Yegor in their top-10 heading into the draft, in spite of him being a second year eligible player – and since his selection, he’s been trending up. He debuted in the NHL last season, scoring 7 goals and 14 points through 62 games, but by season’s end he looked to be on the verge of bigger and better things.
This season started slowly for Yegor, as it did with the rest of the team, but by mid-December he had worked his way into a top-six role. This was partly due to injuries, but at the same time I thought his game was coming on strong. He was starting to show some poise with the puck, while using his feet to compete both offensively and defensively.
Unfortunately, a freak ankle injury early in a game on December 19, cut his season short. He spent more than two months on the IR, only to be reassigned to the AHL’s Cleveland Monsters – where he spent the rest of his season. He played just 7 games in the AHL, due in part to continued injury struggles – but he scored 3 goals and 8 points in that time.
It feels like the upcoming season is a big year for Yegor. Recently signed to a one-year contract extension near league minimum, he’s being given a chance to make the team and separate himself from the pack. But he’ll have to act quickly, as there isn’t much room on the current roster – and there will be some prospects pushing for time in a hurry.
Final season stats: 30 games played, 4 goals, 9 assists, 13 points, 10 PIMs, -6, 44 shots on goal. Overall grade: C
Yegor needs to come to camp stronger and ready to stay healthy. If he can do that, I have little doubt that he can be a productive middle-six winger for this team next season. His skating and shooting abilities are top notch, and he’s been a surprisingly hard worker on the defensive side of the puck. All that said, he’s 22 years old; he’ll need to put it all together soon and prove that he can be a long-term core piece of this puzzle – or risk being left on the outside.