EDMONTON — The shiniest new toy under the Trade Deadline Christmas tree languishes on the roster of the Arizona Coyotes. He is Jakob Chychrun, a dynamic, 24-year-old puck transporting defenceman who wants out of the desert to play for a winner.
On top of that, Chychrun’s contract — with an AAV of $4.6 million for two more seasons after this one — is remarkable value.
A good, young, left-shot defenceman on a value contract? How could the Edmonton Oilers, a team in search of a left side, Top 4 defenceman, not give up whatever the Coyotes are asking to acquire this player — even if it costs Dylan Holloway, a first-round pick and another prospect?
It’s a no-brainer, right?
Yeah, not so fast…
We’ve reported here three weeks ago that the Oilers will not go after Chychrun (we’re standing by that), but many fans and media think GM Ken Holland is making a mistake.
Let’s dig a little deeper, starting with what it is that the Oilers truly need.
Edmonton is third in NHL scoring, averaging 3.55 goals per game. At even strength however, they are 20th in scoring, with an offence that’s propped up by a league-leading powerplay. On their back end they already have Tyson Barrie, Evan Bouchard and Darnell Nurse, three D-men with offensive and puck transporting abilities.
Defensively, Edmonton ranks 23rd in goals against at evens, 20th in goals against per games played (at all strengths), and 21st in shots allowed. They are not stocked with strong defenders, particularly on the blue line.
It is our belief, and the belief of the organization, that the Oilers primary need is a left shot, shut-down defenceman.
So the question becomes, is Jakob Chychrun that guy?
For a broad representation of the eye test, we asked some scouts for their thoughts. And Adam Vingan dived into the metrics for SportLogiq.
His findings may make you rethink your opinion:
“Chychrun is excellent in transition, ranking in the top five in offensive-zone carry-ins (1.72) and defensive-zone carry-outs (3.33) per 20 minutes among 248 defencemen with a minimum of 100 minutes played at 5-on-5.
“Oilers defencemen have collectively averaged 0.88 carry-ins and 1.66 carry-outs per 20 this season — eighth and 26th among NHL defensive corps, respectively. Of course, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl do most of the heavy lifting there.
“Chychrun also has a knack for getting to dangerous scoring areas. His 48 scoring chances in all situations are tied with Rasmus Dahlin for third-most among blueliners, behind only Cale Makar (67) and Roman Josi (50), two of the past three Norris Trophy winners. It is important to note that Chychrun, who made his season debut Nov. 21, has played 16 fewer games than Makar and Josi and 14 fewer than Dahlin.
“Defensively, however, Chychrun makes far less of an impact. The Coyotes have sheltered him this season, keeping him off the penalty kill and sending him out in the offensive zone for 37.3 per cent of his even-strength shifts.
“When in his own zone, Chychrun is not a crease-clearer, though he is solid at getting his stick into passing lanes, blocking 2.45 passes per 20 at 5-on-5.
“If the Oilers subscribe to the theory that the best defence is a good offence, then Chychrun would be a great addition to their blue line. Otherwise, they should look elsewhere for help.”
The analytics do not support Chychrun as an acquisition for any team hoping to bring its goals against down. The stat that caught my eye was when Adam compared Chychrun’s defensive prowess with Nurse.
“As the Oilers’ No. 1 defender, Nurse has his shortcomings on the defensive side of the puck. But Nurse has demonstrated that he can hold his own in unfavourable situations, sporting a 53.9 xGF% despite starting just 28.4 per cent of his even-strength shifts in the offensive zone. Chychrun’s body of work against top competition is less impressive.”
Here is a list of Chychrun’s peers when analyzing defensive metrics:
Dmitry Orlov? Jordan Oesterle? Chris Wideman?
How on earth can a player whose defensive metrics settle in with this group be thought of as the answer to shore up a team’s defensive posture?
Now, what does the eye test say? We talked to some scouts and hockey execs to find out.
“I like (Joel) Edmundson or (Luke) Schenn more for the Oilers this year,” said a scout who lives in the Toronto area. “Teams are taking a lot of time and effort trying to put together a Chychrun package. No time better than now to try and acquire one of the other names before Chychrun moves and they move towards the top of the market.”
One of the more cerebral execs we lean on said this:
“He is an offensive player primarily right now. His two-way, defensive game is still being developed,” he texted. “He’s more talented than what (Edmonton) has … but he is not a defensive defender. At least, not right now.”
What about if you acquired Chychrun, and then re-deployed Nurse as a stay-at-home guy? Play him with Evan Bouchard and let Chychrun roam next to Cody Ceci while Nurse stays home and takes care of the D-zone?
“Nurse needs to be back in the role of a defender,” the scout agreed. “He’s getting away from his identity because of the role he has on this team. He is miscast. Not a No. 1 defender.”
We had two scouts who felt like Chychrun has the defensive chops to be what the Oilers require, but they were in the minority. An old vet whose counsel I have sought for years said this:
“He’s been in a tough spot for his whole career and needs a new address. I think he would embrace the change and be a contributor.”
But a younger scout who works for a team in the Central Division had his doubts:
“A talented player but hockey sense is not top pair level,” he wrote. “Good size and strength. But no real edge. Still young enough to progress though.”
Like several scouts, he saw a comparable between the way Nurse and Chychrun skate the puck. “There is definitely some Nurse in him.”
Do the Oilers need a player who plays the game the way Nurse does? Or one who clears the crease, stays at home and focuses solely on keeping puck out of his net?
Jakob Chychrun is more the former than the latter.