Sarnia defenseman Jakob Chychrun is an advocate of not only becoming an exceptional hockey player, but a well-conditioned athlete.
"It seems to me NHL scouts and general managers don't just want hockey players on and off the ice," Chychrun told NHL.com. "Exploring other skills in order to have an edge is huge to your success at the next level so that's important to me."
Chychrun not only spends countless hours on the ice, but in the gym. He's dedicated himself to becoming the best at his position for the 2016 NHL Draft and it seems to be paying off. Chychrun (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) is No. 2 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm list of North American skaters eligible for the 2016 draft but the-ranked defenseman. Central Scouting is meeting in Toronto this week to create the final ranking of all draft-eligible players to be released next month.
He is the son of former NHL player Jeff Chychrun, who spent seven seasons in the League after being selected in the second round (No. 37) by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1984 draft. Jeff, a defenseman, played 262 games with the Flyers, Los Angeles Kings, Pittsburgh Penguins and Edmonton Oilers.
"The biggest thing my dad told me was that the only thing you can control is how hard you work; I can't even tell you how many times he said that before a game," Chychrun said. "Ever since I was 10 years old I always knew I wanted to be a hockey player so I spent a lot of hours training to become one. I love what I do."
Chychrun, who had 11 goals, 49 points and a plus-23 rating in 62 regular-season games with Sarnia this season, discussed a number of topics recently with NHL.com.
Some believe you are similar in style to Florida Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad in his draft year. Do you agree?
"For sure. I watch Ekblad when I can and from the things I hear I would say I'd like to model my game after him. I like to be very strong in the defensive zone and he put up great numbers as a rookie [last season]. He's continuing to play very strong in his second season in the NHL and that's something I'd like to aspire to do as well. It's not easy entering the League as a defenseman and playing consistently strong and making contributions in your first two years in the NHL."
Does seeing the number of rookie defensemen having an impact in the NHL this season give you hope that you can stick in the League next season? Do you feel you could play in the NHL in 2016-17?
"That's my goal. It's always been a goal of mine to play in the NHL as an 18-year-old. I'm going to do everything I can to be there next year and it's great to see players doing so well. It's especially nice to see Shayne [Gostisbehere] playing the way he is. I know him since he's from Florida, so I saw him at the rinks all the time. He's just another southern prospect who is looking to be a great player in the League and that's great for the game down south. Obviously you would like to have an impact in any league you're playing in, so if I had a chance to be in the NHL next year I'd definitely try my best to have as great an impact as possible."
What does it mean to have former NHL player Derian Hatcher as your coach in Sarnia?
"It's been great. He was a captain of [the Dallas Stars] when they won the Stanley Cup [in 1999] and you can see why. When he's at the rink it's all business and I like that about him. It's an open-door policy and we can go to him to discuss anything. We have good communication between each other, especially on the ice. He's always taking our defense aside and giving tips whenever he can and that goes a long way. For me, any type of advice like that is important because he's been to the highest level. And when you hear him it's something you always remember and want to work at to improve. So I appreciate everything he's done."
What will you remember most about growing up in Florida and playing hockey there?
"I think going to all the Florida Panthers games was my greatest memory. My family had season tickets well before I was born and we still have them today. Whenever I'm home I'm always looking to go to a Panthers game. I just love being at that rink and I remember my parents telling me at a young age that I was always so focused on the play. I'd bring some of my friends and they'd be goofing around, but all I wanted to do was watch the play and that helped me fall in love with the game. My best memory is watching that first playoff game against the New Jersey Devils [in 2012] when the team finally qualified after over 10 years. They took the Devils all the way to a Game 7 but lost in double overtime. The Devils went all the way to the Stanley Cup that year so I guess that was proof enough how good a team the Panthers were that season."
What does leadership mean to you? What type of leader are you?
"Leadership is something I've always taken great pride in. Even at a young age I've always made it a point to be the hardest-working guy at everything I'm doing, whether it's school or my off-ice workouts or on-ice practices. To me it means so much because I have a burning desire to win. I'd like to think it's contagious throughout the locker room and guys can pick up on it and follow. They see my work ethic and see my off-ice habits and my preparation and I try and lead by example most of the time. But I also can be vocal when I have to be, making sure I'm prepared for every situation. Preparation is big for me. I've taken pride to make sure our team is always prepared this year. Maybe sometimes guys might goof around before games or they might have a looser style, which is all right. But it's always important to know when to dial it in. That's something I feel I've helped with this year."
I understand you enjoy helping out in the community. Can you provide an example?
"My teammates and I do a lot of stuff off the ice and it's great that the team does that. It means a lot to me personally. At school this year I took a PEOPEL program class. That stands for Physical Education Opportunity Program for the Exceptional Learner. I have a buddy at school, Garrett, who has Down syndrome and a form of autism, and I worked with him every day. I'm with him during his gym period and I love doing that kind of stuff. We'll go into the gym and some days we'll lift weights, some days play hoops or soccer or even hockey, and it's great."