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Chinakhov starting to settle in both on and off the ice

CBJ rookie is showing his skill, making an impact in his rookie season

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

They say a picture is worth 1,000 words, and when Yegor Chinakhov gave his first Kepi speech in the Blue Jackets locker room, that was the case. 

The joy on Chinakhov's face was palpable as he received the hat that is bestowed on the CBJ player of the game in each victory, and that was no surprise considering his first career goal last Monday tied the score late in an eventual victory over the Red Wings. There was also the uproarious laughter of his teammates, who were thrilled to see the Russian rookie get his reward.

All of those painted a picture of just how much the moment meant to everyone involved, but the seven words Chinakhov actually spoke went a long way, too. After Chinakhov was presented with the Kepi by fellow rookie Cole Sillinger, everyone in the room exhorted him to deliver a speech -- a typical locker room scene after each win. 

After putting the hat on his head, Chinakhov gave a thumbs up and uttered seven words that seemed destined to end up on a T-shirt. 

"Good job. Good work. Good goal. Next," he said before falling into laughter. His teammates joined in in a fitting celebration of a memory that will last a lifetime. 

Video: FIRST KEPI FOR CHINNY

Now in his first year in North America, Chinakhov is still settling in, and it's evident. The English has a long way to go, and it's fair to say Columbus is a whole different world than what he's used to in his hometown of Omsk in Siberia. He's also making adjustments at work, as Chinakhov has to get used to the demanding rigors of playing in the world's toughest hockey league at 20 years old. 

But everything that happened in that locker room shows the process is coming along nicely -- and that there's a lot more excitement to come from the team's 2020 first-round pick.  

"I'm good because I live alone by myself and I try to learn something new every day, so it's good for me," Chinakhov said last week through interpreter Vladislav Gavrikov. "I try to have some fun." 

On the ice, that's been happening. Chinakhov had quite a week last week, not only scoring his first career goal with that huge tally to tie the Red Wings but a game later earning the Blue Jackets a point in the standings by clinching a shootout win at Arizona.  

The goals felt like they were coming, as Chinakhov has not looked out of place on a line with Sillinger and veteran Jakub Voracek since moving up to replace Patrik Laine when he was injured Nov. 3 at Colorado. While there have been the usual teaching points and inconsistencies any rookie is bound to go through, there also have been scoring chances aplenty and moments where you can tell his hockey IQ and skill are off the charts. 

On the score sheet, Chinakhov has the goal and three helpers for four points in his first 12 NHL games, not to mention his shootout tally. Dig a little deeper and there's some more encouraging signs -- including an average of 2.0 shots on goal and 3.4 shot attempts per game, meaning he's not afraid to put the puck on net -- and head coach Brad Larsen has praised his general play way from the puck as the season has gone on.  

"He's come in and I think he's trying to play the right way," Oliver Bjorkstrand said. "Obviously when you're young, a lot of times it's hard understanding the right way to play, but I think he's doing a lot of good things. Most of the time, he's making the right plays at the right times and not trying to do too much. Whenever he has a chance to make a skill play, he makes it and makes some nice plays. 

"He could have a few goals already, he's just gotten a little bit unlucky, but I'm impressed by him." 

But at the end of the day, scorers want to score, and getting his first career goal was good for the confidence of Chinakhov. With the Jackets down 3-2 late in the game against the Red Wings, Voracek played Chinakhov alone into the offensive zone, and before Detroit goalie Thomas Greiss could even move, the Russian forward unleashed a bullet of a shot that went through the legs to tie the game. 

Video: DET@CBJ: Chinakhov ties it with his first NHL goal

Afterward, Chinakhov credited Elvis Merzlikins -- one of two fellow Russian speakers on the team along with Gavrikov -- for telling him to shoot five-hole. And there was no doubt how much the goal meant to him based on the celebration, in which Sillinger tackled Chinakhov to the ground. 

"At that moment, scoring that goal that tied the game and after that we won, it was just a great feeling," he said. "Everyone (at home) was so excited, started texting me right away after the game -- congrats and stuff like that. It was pretty similar in the KHL because I scored in the eighth game, so they started texting like, 'Finally, you scored,' so congrats and stuff like that." 

Add in a similar tally through the wickets to beat Arizona's Scott Wedgewood in the shootout and it's clear that with time and space, Chinakhov's shot is a weapon that will just keep impressing. 

Video: CBJ@ARI: Chinakhov wins the shootout in the 7th round

"I think it's just all release," Sillinger said. "If you look at Bjorkstrand, if you look at Laine, all the top shooters, it's the release, right? It's how quick the puck can get from the stick and in the back of the net. That's something I see with Chinny, too. He's got a really good release, and when it does come off, it's hot, too. He has a bomb, and it's very accurate. You mix those three things together, you have a good shot." 

Off the ice, the transition is just as real, and it's not the easiest thing in the world considering he's still learning the language. It's clear he's already formed a bond with the two Russian speakers, with the three often traveling to dinner or other destinations together on the road, while Sillinger is his roommate on the road and is helping bring along his English skills.  

"He's an awesome guy, and part of me wishes he could speak full-time English because I think we'd be even closer if he did," Sillinger said. "It's very fun. You're trying to communicate with him as much as I can, but I think that every day he's getting more comfortable with me and more comfortable with the guys." 

Added Bjorkstrand: "I think he's learning. His English isn't the best, but you can see he's a funny guy and a good guy. I think Gavy is taking most of the time with him because he can speak Russian. It's not easy coming from Russia and not knowing English and starting the process of learning it. I think he's doing just fine. He seems comfortable. We're trying to get to know him, but of course it can be a little hard." 

Which is why moments like the Kepi speech are so valuable, helping bridge the gap between players from all over the world, and also helping draw a line from success on the ice to success away from it. Just one question remained -- did Chinakhov practice the speech, waiting for his big moment? 

"What do you think?" Gavrikov deadpanned. "Try to guess. He didn't practice that." 

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