With five goals and nine points in his last five games, Yegor Chinakhov is finally breaking out for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets have been looking for a spark since the moment the puck dropped on this season, and they have seemingly found it with their recently formed all-Russian line of Chinakhov, Dmitri Voronkov, and Kirill Marchenko. All three players were drafted by the Jackets, whose patience with allowing them to develop slowly overseas is paying early dividends.
Marchenko has been a force for the club since his call-up last season. He started in the American Hockey League to help him adjust to the smaller rink size and faster pace of the North American game, before earning his chance in Columbus. So far, through 90 NHL games, he has 34 goals and 46 points.
But it's Yegor Chinakhov's recent emergence that seems to be helping pull this all together, in my opinion. He seemed to be coming on strong last year before a high ankle sprain ultimately caused him to miss the final four months of the season. This year, he started the season on IR - then had to earn his way to Columbus by spending some time in the AHL himself.
Chinakhov quickly proved that he's too good for the AHL, rattling off 3 goals and 4 points in 3 games for the Cleveland Monsters. He started off slowly for the Jackets, leading some to wonder if he might be turning into a bust. But the key to unlocking his potential, it seems, was pairing him with fellow Russians Marchenko and Voronkov.
Voronkov has been a revelation for the team at center, with size, skill, physicality, and a surprisingly good hockey IQ. He's been the perfect fit alongside the two skilled wingers, and the three developed instant chemistry. Since being put together, this line has stuck around while the rest of the roster goes through seemingly perpetual shuffling.
As they've developed comfort, Chinakhov has been the standout player. We all knew about his shooting ability, but it's his skating has stood out in a big way recently. He's been backing off defenders, helping buy time and space. His playmaking with Marchenko has given this club a legitimate scoring threat each time they're on the ice. Sure, we see the occasional odd mistake from this trio; but on the whole, they have been entertaining and dangerous offensively.
Patience was the key with all three of these players. Marchenko and Voronkov took their time developing in Russia; while Chinakhov came to North America early. The fact that they are all hitting at around the same time, should serve as a testiment to this franchise's ability to draft and develop European players. Now, if they can just figure out how to defend...