Yegor Chinakhov cannot stop scoring goals.
It can be tricky to assess the value of preseason play, and I'll be the first to admit that these games are largely meaningless. But they matter for the players on the bubble, and Chinakhov is squarely a player on the fringe of the AHL/NHL.
Working against the 21-year-old Russian is his entry-level contract status. He can be sent to the AHL without having to pass through waivers, a luxury that doesn't apply to other borderline players within the organization.
On the other hand, how do you justify keeping Chinakhov out of the opening-night lineup? On Monday night, he scored his fourth preseason goal, tied for the NHL lead. In his rookie season, Chinakhov struggled to sustain consistent offense, tallying 7-7-14 (G-A-PTS) in 62 NHL games. But the club clearly felt he was better served in the NHL than the AHL, where he played just one game (he scored a goal in that game).
A season later, the NHL forward group is crowded as ever, but Chinakhov seems to have taken the challenge on with gusto.
Did someone order a Yegor Bomb? Chinakhov scores on the delayed penalty for CBJ to make it 1-0! pic.twitter.com/h8GsmWgsRi— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) September 30, 2022
Chinny scores his second of the night off a beautiful pass from Nyquist! 2-0 CBJ! pic.twitter.com/OiWnOLXShA— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) September 30, 2022
Chinny has found a groove in pre-season as he has his 3rd goal in 2 games! CBJ lead 2-1! pic.twitter.com/kgIct9xzht— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) October 2, 2022
Make that a 3-game streak for Chinny! He scores off the face-off to make it 1-0 CBJ! pic.twitter.com/TKJkgtMEc5— CBJ Center (@CBJcenter) October 3, 2022
The Russian's shot is clearly his best asset, but he'll need to show he can play a complete game to make the roster - and to stay in the lineup. With Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine, Gus Nyquist, and Jakub Voracek likely manning the winger spots for the top two lines, that leaves players like Chinakhov, Kirill Marchenko, and Kent Johnson fighting for the same spots.
NHL lineup configuration has evolved, and most teams use their fourth lines in a more offensive manner than in prior generations. Still, Chinkahov doesn't profile like even a modern-day fourth liner, at least, when compared to players like Sean Kuraly, Justin Danforth, and Eric Robinson.
Others, like Carson Meyer, have come out of nowhere to push for a roster spot, further complicating the matter. And while Mathieu Olivier has not done much to justify a roster spot thus far this preseason, the organization moved assets this offseason to bring him into the fold. Would they cut bait on him already?
Scoring goals alone isn't the only consideration. The club may have enough firepower with or without Chinakhov. But in my view, it would be unseemly to send Chinakhov to the AHL to start the year. He's done enough to make the opening night roster. With only a few preseason games separating us between the Monday roster locks, it will be interesting to see if the organization agrees.