Just under a year ago, the Columbus Blue Jackets used their first round draft pick to select a player that left many experts asking, quite literally, "who?"
Eleven months later, Yegor Chinakhov is answering that question without saying a word.
In Columbus' second game of the NHL Prospects Tournament, Chinakhov scored less than a minute into the game and added a power play goal in the third period to propel the Blue Jackets to a 5-3 win over the Dallas Stars.
An argument could be made either way as to which of those goals were more impressive, and either way would be right.
The two-goal game puts Chinakhov at three so far in the tournament, with two games down and two to go. The tournament wraps up Monday, with the Blue Jackets first preseason game one week later, on September 27th.
This hot start has to make one wonder, particularly if it continues: can the Blue Jackets afford not to give Chinakhov an opening night roster spot?
After a fantastic rookie season in the KHL, where the 20-year-old added Rookie of the Year to his resume, Chinakhov signed an entry-level contract with the Blue Jackets in May. Because of that, this season will be his second year - despite not even being in the United States for the first year of his contract. That makes him a restricted free agent after the 2022-23 season, when he'll be just 22 years old.
It's not common for players as young as Chinakhov to make an impact at the NHL level, but it's not unheard of. The Blue Jackets have a good example in their own backyard: Patrik Laine. As an 18-year-old rookie with the Winnipeg Jets in the 2016-17 season, Laine scored 36 goals and added 28 assists in 73 games.
At age 23, Laine now has 150 goals in 351 games. The 6'5" winger who went second overall behind Auston Matthews, Laine was a highly-touted prospect with an expectation to succeed immediately.
Chinakhov is a half-foot shorter and has a fraction of the pressure, but is seen as a big part of the future for the Blue Jackets. He plays a confident game and, unlike most young players, does not have a glaring weakness.
With the Blue Jackets not under any pressure to have a big year, Chinakhov has the opportunity to fly under the radar. In a worst-case scenario, Chinakhov can find his flaws, work them out in the AHL with the Cleveland Monsters, and likely to be in the NHL next season as a still very young 21-year-old.
But what about the opposite scenario? While the sample size is admittingly limited, what we've seen so far is that Chinakhov has the potential to be a particularly special player.
And if that's the case, why wait?