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Chychrun Takes Deep Breath After Draft

by Jerry Brown / Arizona Coyotes

GLENDALE -- Jakob Chychrun was on skates when he was two years old, and chose his career path not long after.

"I knew at a very young age that hockey was what I wanted to do, and that I wanted to be the best at it," the 6-foot-2, 200-pound defenseman said Wednesday.

But for someone who was pointing toward his draft year before he could ride a bike, there were challenges and obstacles that could knock any life-long skater off his blades.

Ranked as high as No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's list of North American skaters, and the top-ranked defenseman a few months before the 2016 draft, Chychrun had a disappointing season by his own standards with Sarnia of the Ontario Hockey League. Scouts agreed, which made for a much longer night in Buffalo as the draft unfolded.

Jakob Chychrun. Photo by Norm Hall.

Sitting next to his father, former NHL defenseman Jeff Chychrun, each new team on the board would bring a renewed roster discussion and hope that the wait would end. More than a dozen times, they had to regroup and refocus.

"It was a little stressful," Chychrun said. "I had no idea where I was going to end up, and that makes it more nerve-wracking."

Finally, the Coyotes, who passed on Chychrun to take center Clayton Keller at No. 7, traded with the Detroit Red Wings to move up within the first round and select Chychrun at No. 16, turning a night of uncertainly into a best-case scenario.

Stocked with prospects up front, including forwards Dylan Strome, Christian Dvorak and Brendan Perlini in front of Keller, the Coyotes have a much shorter prospect list on defense, which gives Chychrun a chance to reshape his stock quickly.

"It's important to always believe in yourself," he said. "Last year, personally, I had a tough year but I never lost faith in what my abilities are. I'm just always trying to improve and get better, and self belief helps get you there. I try to have fun while I'm doing that."

Chychrun had 49 points (11 goals, 38 assists) in 62 games after having shoulder surgery the previous summer, but it was a lack of fun and confidence last season in Sarnia that may have contributed to a more stressful night at the draft.

Jakob Chychrun. Photo by Norm Hall.

Coyotes Director of Player Development Steve Sullivan said while he disagreed with scouts who criticized Chychrun's hockey IQ as the draft drew closer, there was a legitimate reason why his stock fell.

"I think it was about being tense," Sullivan said. "All the pressure of wanting to be second overall and maybe not having a great season; it snowballed the wrong way for him.

"Now he needs to understand he's been drafted into the National Hockey League and we're going to put him in a game plan to get him here as fast as we can. He can loosen up and play the way we think he can play. If that happens, there is no reason why he won't be here sooner than later."

It's highly unlikely that will happen this season; the Coyotes have seven defensemen on one-way contracts and no plans to rush Chychrun to the NHL. But with a roster of young players already in Arizona, skating with other talented players at the Coyotes development camp has Chychrun excited and confident he landed in the right place.

"The future is obviously extremely bright here," he said. "I've played against a lot of the high-end prospects in this organization and they aren't fun to play against. It's good to be on the same side of the ice with them and start bonding.

"Hopefully a lot of this core will be here for a long time and translate to success for Arizona."

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