GLENDALE - Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun raised a few eyebrows at the 2016 NHL Draft when he confidently declared he was ready to make an immediate jump from junior hockey to the NHL as the 16th overall pick.
The 18-year-old talked the talk. Then he walked the walk.
"Going into camp, I would have said he wasn't going to play on our team (this season)," Head Coach Dave Tippett said at his recent season-ending press conference. "He basically willed himself on our team."
Chychrun earned a roster spot during training camp and kept it for the full season. He played 68 of 82 games, and finished tied for second among first-year NHL defensemen with seven goals. His 20 points ranked seventh among freshmen blueliners.
Beyond his offensive stats, Chychrun gained valuable experience playing 16:40 per game on a team filled with young prospects looking to impress.
"I think it went good," Chychrun said of his rookie NHL season. "I had some goals coming into camp, and I wanted to make the team. Luckily I had a good camp and a couple of good preseason games, so that was the first goal. I learned a lot as the year went on, and I think I grew on and off the ice as a person and a player. We had a good group of young guys that learned together and I think we did well."
Highlights of Chychrun's season included his first NHL goal, which he scored in front of family members and friends in Montreal on Oct. 20. At age 18 years, 203 days, he became the youngest player in Coyotes history to score his first career NHL goal. He also became the first rookie defenseman in franchise history to record a point in his first three career games, with his goal and two assists.
Another highlight included his first three-point game of his NHL career on March 11 vs. the New Jersey Devils.
Like all rookies, Chychrun also experienced some on-ice moments he'd rather forget in his first NHL season. He said he'll use those miscues as learning experiences.
"The biggest thing is that when you're playing well you don't get too high on yourself, and when you're not playing well that you don't get too down on yourself," Chychrun said. "You have to keep a level head. You're going to have bad games so it's important to limit those games and keep a level head throughout the year."
Playing in the NHL as a teenager, Chychrun battled a feeling of being in awe of his surroundings at times, especially early in the season.
"I think playing against some of the guys I looked up to growing up like Sidney Crosby, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, was pretty cool," said Chychrun, who played forward first as a youngster before switching to defenseman. "It was good we got that out of the way because we have to compete against them and it's my job to shut them down now."
The team's veteran defensemen helped Chychrun immensely throughout the season, he said.
"All of them were really good guys to talk to about the year and going through some things that you will go through as a rookie defenseman," Chychrun said. "It's not easy in this league so it's good to have them helping me along."
The Coyotes are confident Chychrun can improve as a defenseman and they consider him a key component of the team's future.
"He's a mature young man," Tippett said during the season. "An 18-year-old that is concerned about getting enough rest, concerned about his nutrition, concerned about watching video of himself playing - not a lot of 18-year-old kids do that. He's a very dedicated athlete that way."
Video: Jakob Chychrun discusses 2016-17, team's future