Jakob Chychrun believes hockey is growing in Florida. He rattles off a list of former players who have relocated to the Sunshine State and began coaching as evidence: Pete Worrell, Tomas Vokoun, and his own father, Jeff. The NHL Panthers have an exciting young team that finished this past season atop the Atlantic Division which, naturally, brings some excitement too.
Yet as a student growing up in Boca Raton, a city 22 miles north from where the Panthers play in Sunrise, Fla., Chychrun's friends at school were more inclined to talk football and basketball than they were hockey. When Chychrun was able to discuss his favorite sport, it was often with one friend in particular.
That friend was Kelly Pegula.
Chychrun attended American Heritage High School with Kelly and Matthew Pegula, the youngest children of Sabres owners Terry and Kim Pegula, and the two families live just three miles down the road from one another. Chychrun has been able to speak with Terry which, naturally, led to him envisioning what it might be like to one day play for him.
"I've thought about it," he said from the NHL Scouting Combine at HARBORCENTER. "Great ownership, playing for an owner who cares about his players, who wants to win. I mean, that's my ultimate goal is to win a Stanley Cup and I think they're on the right path here so I'd love to play in Buffalo."
The question then becomes not only where the Sabres' scouting department has him ranked on its own board, but whether or not Chychrun will even be available when it comes time for the Sabres to pick at No. 8 when the first round of the NHL Draft is held at First Niagara Center on June 24.
Dan Marr, Director of Central Scouting, called Chychrun the "real deal" at the Combine and has him ranked as the top defenseman in the Draft. But he also admitted that teams will differ in how they rank the top blue-liners, including Olli Juolevi, Charles McAvoy and Mikhail Sergachev. Marr said that all four project to be top-four defensemen in the NHL.
Coming off of a season in which his point total wasn’t quite where he wanted it to be after offseason shoulder surgery (he scored 11 goals and 38 assists for 49 points with the Ontario Hockey League's Sarnia Sting) but his defensive game showed improvement, Chychrun recognizes that there is no sure answer as to where he'll fall.
"I'm not going to stress too much about it," he said. "I just want to enjoy Draft day and the only thing that really matters is what I do after that day."