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'I always check Arizona to see how he's doing'

Luke Richardson will be coaching against his nephew on Wednesday night at Gila River Arena

by Matt Cudzinowski @CanadiensMTL /

GLENDALE - When the Canadiens last visited the Coyotes in December 2018, assistant coach Luke Richardson was afforded the best of both worlds.

Not only did Richardson and company earn a hard-fought 2-1 win at Gila River Arena, but his nephew Jakob Chychrun also managed to register his name on the scoresheet for Arizona with a helper on their lone goal.

"We beat them and Jakob got an assist, so I was happy in the end," said Richardson, recalling the encounter during which goaltender Carey Price picked up his 300th career victory. "I told him that after the game. I think he laughed for my sake. He's so competitive. I don't think he was happy that he lost, but he knows what I meant."

Wins and losses aside, there's no denying Richardson's genuine admiration for the 21-year-old defenseman, who is already in his fourth season in the NHL ranks.

Chychrun was one of two first-round selections the Coyotes made in 2016. After picking centerman Clayton Keller seventh overall, the Boca Raton, FL native was the 16th player to be plucked from the crowd in Buffalo.

"I always check the box scores and see how we're doing with foes in our division and rivalries, and I always check Arizona to see how he's doing as well," mentioned Richardson, referencing the former OHL standout with the Sarnia Sting. "I'm always fascinated by how young he is. When you watch him on the ice, he has the confidence and grace of a veteran. He's like that off the ice, too. He gives a lot back to the community. He's a very mature person, and I think that's translated into his playing style."

Seeing Chychrun battle through multiple knee surgeries in recent years wasn't easy for Richardson, of course, but he isn't at all surprised that his nephew overcame the ensuing adversity and ultimately returned to form.

Right now, Chychrun is averaging 20:32 of ice time per game. That ranks him fourth on the roster, behind fellow blueliners Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski.

"Lots of times people are deserving and don't get the opportunity, but you persevere and you get things done. It wasn't so easy for him being a highly-rated guy and then maybe dropping in the Draft a little bit. But Arizona got lucky and got him at a lower number. He turned out to be a pro right from day one, so what a steal for them," praised Richardson. "I'm definitely very happy for him. Seeing how hard he works and the determination he has, it really shows in his progression. He's the consummate professional."

As far as coaching against Chychrun is concerned, Richardson isn't about to let family ties get in the way of the task at hand as the Canadiens open a three-game road trip.

He does, however, give his players a heads up about the 6-foot-2, 210-pound rearguard's capabilities.

"I definitely keep guys aware of his skating ability and his strength. Even Webby gave him a cuff at the end of the game in Arizona last year and he didn't even budge. Jakob kind of gave him a shot back. Webby was like 'Wow! He's pretty sturdy.' He thought he was just a tall blonde kid from Florida. I think he surprises some people with how strong he is," recounted Richardson. "It's all business tonight, but I'm happy to see him smile and meet up after the game."

Believe it or not, Richardson was in the building when Chychrun scored his first career NHL goal on October 20, 2016. And it came against the Habs at the Bell Centre.

Richardson isn't just a fan this time around, though, so the objective is to keep Chychrun and the rest of the Coyotes from lighting the lamp.

"I remember that night when he scored. I was upstairs watching. I've got the game sheet," concluded Richardson with a laugh. "That's good enough. That's all I need."

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