Chronicling Jakob Chychrun is strange these days. The one player whom everyone assumed would be an immovable cornerstone of the Coyotes’ rebuild is now the focal point of the next sledgehammer stroke, with GM Bill Armstrong eyeing further renovation.
Make no mistake: The Coyotes are still looking to trade Chychrun and Chychrun still wants to be traded. Nothing has changed on that front, but everything is stuck in this weird holding pattern as other teams ogle the merchandise to assess its strengths, its weaknesses, its potential and its price.
We’re somewhere on the dead man walking continuum.
The attention wasn’t there for Chychrun’s first few games after he returned from a wrist injury because he was still getting his legs under him, but the volume of NHL eyes expected to witness his upcoming games is increasing. Things may get awkward on Mullett Arena’s cozy Devil Deck when pro scouts brush elbows while jotting down their notes.
“I don’t think it’s weird at all,” Chychrun said Wednesday before the team departed for Los Angeles for a Thursday night game against the Kings; one of Chychrun’s many rumored suitors. “There’s always people watching. It is what it is, really. I’m just gonna do everything I can to play well for this club like I’ve always done and everything should take care of itself.”
Chychrun has done his part. Since his return, he looks like the dynamic, strong-skating offensive force who led all NHL defensemen with 18 goals in 2020-21. He has a goal, three points and 22 shots on goal. He is averaging nearly the same amount of ice time as he did in that watershed season, despite missing eight months of action due to injuries.
Like Chychrun, the Coyotes are doing their part to hawk their asset. Coach André Tourigny’s job is to win games, not focus on making one player look good, but it is still fair to say that Arizona is showcasing Chychrun for an eventual deal. Here are a few examples:
Chychrun is averaging 23:07 of ice time, which ranks second on the team to JJ Moser’s 23:32.
TOI vs. Nashville: 23:04 (third behind Moser and Shayne Gostisbehere)
TOI vs. Carolina: 20:32 (third behind Moser and Gostisbehere)
TOI vs. Detroit: 26:04 (second behind Gostisbehere)
TOI vs. Minnesota: 22:46 (second behind Gostisbehere)
Chychrun’s offensive-zone starts have increased to 57.7 percent, more in line with the 2020-21 season and a big increase over the 45.4 percent of last season. After a demotion last season, he was back on the top power-play unit. He was on the ice for 65.5 percent of the Coyotes’ power-play time which led the team, and he was averaging more than three minutes of power-play time per game.
From a personnel standpoint, Chychrun has been paired with Shayne Gostisbehere for all four games, and the forwards with whom he is generally on the ice are also predictably offensive-minded.
Forwards on ice with Chychrun
Nashville: Per NHL.com shift charts, he was primarily on the ice with Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz and Travis Boyd.
Carolina: A mixed bag, but later in the game he was primarily on the ice with Keller, Schmaltz and Boyd again.
Detroit: Primarily on the ice with Keller, Schmaltz and Boyd.
Minnesota: Primarily on the ice with Keller, Schmaltz and Boyd.
“The situations that I’m playing in like that and PP1, that’s a huge part of it,” Chychrun said of his success. “Playing with Ghost is like playing with Goosie (Alex Goligoski) two years ago. Offensive guys like to play with other offensive-minded guys because it’s just easy to make reads off one another. We’re thinking about the game the same way and we both want to create.”
“We play good together in the sense that we’re both looking to jump up in the play,” he said. “We both let our defense lead to our offense.”
Tourigny isn’t pairing the two to please suitors, however.
“I don’t treat Chych differently than anybody else,” he said. “When he came back I told him, ‘We’ll play you in the first period on the first pairing and we’ll see from there.’ He played well in the first period so he played there in the second period and the third and so on. As long as his performance is there that won’t change.
“They didn’t play together last season but they had a few shifts and they liked it. When you look at our lineup, we have a lot of puck-moving D. Vali (Juuso Välimäki) can move the puck, Mo (JJ Moser) can move the puck, Ghost can move the puck, Chych can move the puck, Stech (Troy Stecher) is pretty good at moving the puck. Nemo (Patrik Nemeth) and Stech played together and played really well so there was no reason to say, ‘Oh, we need to spread them apart because we need puck moving on more than one pairing.’”
Tourigny has seen a difference in Chychrun this season from last when he struggled.
“He’s more intense on the puck carrier,” Tourigny said. “He moves his feet, he applies more pressure, he’s more involved in the games. He is receptive. He is just fun to coach.”
Chychrun believes he has another level beyond the one that he achieved in 2020-21.
“I wasn’t really expecting to have the summer I had,” he said of an offseason that included surgical procedures on his wrist and ankle. “A lot of things happened that I wasn’t expecting, but it is what it is. You’ve just got to deal with it. That’s what I did and it was actually nice because I ended up having a lot of time on the ice before I came back, which I hadn’t had in previous summers.
“I was on the ice for well over a month, maybe a month and a half before I joined the team and so I kind of just felt like I got my skating legs under me. I’m in really good shape and I feel like I’m just gonna keep getting better as my body just gets more acclimated. Obviously, I’m sore because I haven’t been in that grind in a long time, but I think I’m better than that season two years ago. I think I have even more to offer than I did that season.”
Those familiar with Chychrun’s maniacal workout reputation will also appreciate that he has taken his diet to the same level.
“The guys think I’m crazy. My family thinks I’m crazy. My girlfriend thinks I’m crazy,” he said, smiling. “It’s a lot of protein and I’m not really eating carbs. On game days. I’ll eat some sweet potatoes, some white rice, fruit, but all my dairy stuff I try to get raw. I’m really big into that. It’s like an ancestral way of living, and I’m also eating raw liver, raw beef heart, doing all this crazy stuff. The taste is awful, but your body almost craves it when you eat it consistently because it’s just so nutrient dense.
“For the longest time, hockey players were just eating as many carbs as you can and that’s what I’ve always known my whole life: Eat a whole bowl of pasta before you play, but I just think you feel so much better when you get your fuel from a different source. I’m so into it right now and you can drive yourself crazy with it, which I try not to do because when I’m in on something I’m all in, trying to go above and beyond. So you have to find that fine balance.”
It is still hard to fathom Chychrun playing for another team. Ever since he made the team in his draft year under a coach (Dave Tippett) who held younger, developing players to the same stringent standards as veterans, Chychrun has felt like a Coyotes lifer because of his commitment, his attitude and his game.
Assuming that Armstrong gets his asking price — and he probably will if Chychrun keeps playing like this — that will change. It’s a reminder of just how fluid pro sports can be in the salary cap era where executives and coaches change with frequency and relationships change with them.
“I’m in a good mindset and a good physical state,” Chychrun said. “It’s fun to be back with the guys and be back on the ice. That’s when I’m playing my best: when I’m having fun. That’s what I really preached two years ago: having a lot of fun, and I think I’m back to that point.”
Top photo of Jakob Chychrun via Getty Images