Yegor Chinakhov's Progress Has Been A Major Positive For The Columbus Blue Jackets

By Dan Dukart on February 1, 2024 at 1:45 pm
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Yegor Chinakhov takes a shot against the Seattle Kraken
Stephen Brashear-USA TODAY Sports

A season ago, Yegor Chinakhov missed a chunk of the season due to injury. It was a devastating blow for the then-21-year-old, who coincidentally turned 23 as of today (2/1). 

Not so much because the team needed him - they were floundering towards a 31st-place finish - but because he needed the reps, the minutes, the experiences. He finished his sophomore campaign with a pedestrian 4-9-13 in 30 games, an improvement over his rookie 7-7-14 in 62 games, but nothing to be overly excited about. The beginning of this season was more of the same. Through his first 17 games, he posted 3-2-5. For a first-round pick whose calling card was offense, expectations were muted. Simply put, 32 points in 109 games wasn't good enough.

Then something changed. It's difficult to say what, exactly, but it's probably a combination of a Patrik Laine injury, which prompted Chinakhov's ascent in the lineup, coupled with Pascal Vincent striking gold by putting together the 'Russian Trio' line of Chinakhov, Kirill Marchenko, and Dmitri Voronkov. 

In the most recent 22 games, Chinakhov has been on a tear, tallying 11-8-19 while averaging 17:09 TOI. His shot rate has more than doubled from earlier in the season, and he seems to be playing with a newfound confidence. His 1.37 goals/60 is T-44th in the NHL alongside Jack Hughes and Jake Guentzel. He's been promoted to play exclusively opposite Johnny Gaudreau and switched between centers Cole Sillinger and Boone Jenner in recent games.

Playing with Gaudreau has proven a difficult challenge for many Blue Jackets wingers. Gaudreau likes to command the puck through the neutral zone, is consistently looking for east-west and delay plays, and is (understandably) not a huge proponent of chasing down dumped pucks. In other words, his best fit is someone who compliments his game by playing with speed and creativity. Chinakhov has also shown massive improvements in his forechecking game and is proving to be a thorn in the side of opposing breakouts. Watch how he steals the puck from the Vancouver Canucks' J.T. Miller and immediately finds the most dangerous player on the ice, Jake Bean, in the middle of the ice. As a sign of his maturing game, he even goes to replace Bean in the high ice. 

Chinakhov's best assets are his straight-ahead foot speed and wicked wrist shot. It's no surprise, then, that he's found a home in transition offense. Both of his goals against Seattle came on largely individual efforts, using his speed and spacing to find a gap in the high slot before releasing his world-class shot.

This isn't to suggest that Chinakhov is deficient in a structured offensive zone-time setting, but his foot speed and shot are not as dangerous in a confined space. For him to take the next step, he'll need to improve on his consistency on in-zone sets. That may include shortening his release, playing more directly, and shooting right away instead of waiting for the perfect opportunity, which is harder to come by in structured play. 

Thankfully, in a lost season, the club can afford to allow Chinakhov to progress, where he may not have that luxury on a contending team. Playing alongside Gaudreau should give him high-quality defense matchups and plenty of offensive zone time. If he can continue to actualize and take advantage of these final 32 games, it could pay significant dividends for the Blue Jackets in the future.    

View 2 Comments