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Chinakhov's 'lethal' shot already making people take notice

The Blue Jackets first-round pick is turning heads with his unique skills

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

Yegor Chinakhov smiled when he heard the question -- a little bit in English first and then a lot more when it was repeated in Russian. 

But it's something Blue Jackets fans want to know. Just how did the 20-year-old Russian forward create a shot that already is flummoxing NHL goaltenders, one that has his teammates and coaches in awe and fans ready to embrace someone who could be the next great scorer in CBJ history?

But when asked about that shot Wednesday night, Chinakhov smiled and put his head down a bit. 

"Nothing special," he said through interpreter Anton Poltyrev. 

Video: Postgame: Chinakhov (9/29/21)

Sorry, Yegor. Just about everyone else would beg to differ, starting with Chinakhov's boss. CBJ head coach Brad Larsen has been in the game at the highest level for more than two decades as a player and a coach, and he's seen plenty of players who could score with the best in the world. 

And when discussing the way Chinakhov has made goalies look helpless so far in his first few North American games, Larsen has a name come to mind. And it's a doozy. 

"It's a lethal shot," Larsen said. "I know (Chinakhov's coach with Avangard Omsk in Russia) Bob Hartley very well, so I talked to him over the summer, and he was adamant he has a really good release. He actually compared it to a Joe Sakic type, which if any of you guys have seen Joe Sakic, you don't throw that out without putting a lot of thought into it. 

"And I saw it. He can shoot the puck. He can put a little bit of fear into some goalies, for sure." 

And yes, bringing Sakic's name into the equation certainly is quite a comparison. That's Joe Sakic, Hockey Hall of Famer and Stanley Cup champion, as well as a scorer of 625 NHL goals, many of them with what most observers consider one of the best wrist shots (if not the best) in the history of the game.  

So when we say Chinakhov is getting high praise, we're not joking. There's obviously a long way to go -- scoring goals at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and in NHL preseason games isn't the same as doing it on a nightly basis at the world's highest level -- but seven goals in his first five games in a union blue sweater is naturally going to turn some heads. 

That shot is also what helped Chinakhov score 17 goals -- 10 in the regular season, seven in the playoffs -- in 53 games a season ago with Avangard as the Siberian squad won the KHL's Gagarin Cup and Chinakhov was named the recipient of the Alexei Cherepanov Award as the league's top rookie. 

Chinakhov would go in streaks where it seemed like KHL goalies simply could not stop him in the second best league in the world, and that has continued here in North America. He posted six goals in three games in Traverse City, scoring in a variety of ways but all with that lethal shot. 

Some, in particular, stood out. There was a play where he crashed from high in the zone toward the net against Dallas, took a pass from Cole Sillinger in stride and roofed a shot with a defender all over his back. In the next game against Detroit, Chinakhov was fading away from the net in the right circle near the boards on the power play and still put all he had into a one-timer that went into the net.  

There were also some wide open wrist shots that found the twine, and NHL teams will have to quickly take notice whenever Chinakhov is on the ice. Pittsburgh's Tristan Jarry found that out the hard way in Monday's preseason opener, as a forward gave Chinakhov too much time and space at the top of the zone. From there, the Russian loaded up and fired a bullet from beyond the top of the circles that got over the glove of the NHL netminder. 

Video: Chinakhov snipes it

"His release is insane," said Carson Meyer, himself a pretty talented goal scorer. "For me, I score a lot of my goals in tight, maybe hashmarks down. And for him, he has such a quick reelase that he can shoot from wherever he wants. I don't usually shoot from above the top of the circle. I'm not as confident that I'm going to score from there. Just statistically, I score all my goals a lot tighter, unless I'm letting a one-timer loose, but it seems like he can shoot from anywhere and he doesn't miss.  

From there, Meyer went into full general manager mode.  

"I've always been told there's power, accuracy and release, and the msot important of those three things is release. The quicker your release, that's the most important thing because the goalie has less time to react to it. It doesn't matter how accurate your shot is. If you get it off slowly, the goalie is going to be there. His release is one of the best I've seen." 

Meyer pointed to a few examples that make Chinakhov unique, from his ability to cross up a goalie by going far-side on a one timer to his propensity to shooting from above the top of the circles ("I mean, who does that? And scores?" Meyer said incredulously). 

For Larsen, the key is that not only does Chinakhov have a hard shot, he puts it on net -- something that actaually does differnetiate the young Russian from other similarly talented players. Another coach, Cleveland assistant Trent Vogelhuber, who led the CBJ team in Traverse City, can only help but laugh though when asked what makes it unique. 

"If I could tell you what it was, I probably wouldn't have retired so early," Vogelhuber said. "I don't know. It defies … he can just shoot the puck so well and so hard and so quick. You don't see shots like that very often, so it's fun." 

Chinakhov admits he's put in the work, "shooting my whole childhood" as he said of his days as a kid learning the game in Omsk. At the end of the day, his skills are likely the result of any player who has a unique gift -- he was born with a God-given talent, but he's also worked on it and refined it over and over as the years have gone by. 

And now, he's on the cusp of making to the NHL at age 20 thanks in part to that. The rest of his game is coming along -- he's shown a willingness to get physical, and a few of his passes have shown exceptional vision -- but the shot will be the meal ticket. And what a meal that could be. 

"Everybody talks about his shot," Larsen said. "His shot is lethal. We know that part of it, but he really thinks the game. Watching his instincts and how he plays, he doesn't quit on plays. He's really good at reading the rush -- coming into the zone, he has his head on a swivel, he's looking for late guys, he's slowing up, he knows when he has to speed up. He finishes his shifts. 

"There's a lot to grow on from there, but I've been really impressed with how he's handled himself in the camp and now these games too." 

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