When the Columbus Blue Jackets took Yegor Chinakhov in the first round of the 2021 NHL draft, the prospect hockey world was shocked.
Many NHL scouts had never even heard of the guy. And yet, the Blue Jackets decided to take him in the first round.
Chinakhov wasn't on most public draft boards, and it was understandable as to why. While he did have a great season in the Russian junior league, he had no KHL action to his credit, and the MHL isn't exactly known for incredible goaltending. Most of the top prospects overall are pushing up a higher level. But Chinakhov had a scoring touch to him, and the Blue Jackets took a gamble.
And it was a gamble worth taking. While his World Junior Championship performance was nothing special, he played well during the Euro Hockey Tour and had 10 goals and 17 points in 32 games with Avangard Omsk of the KHL. Only Washington Capitals prospect Alexei Protas had more points (18) than Chinakhov among U-20 KHLers, but he did so with 26 more games to his credit. In fact, Chinakhov was the only U-20 player in the entire league to have over a 0.40 points-per-game average, topping out at 0.53.
“I cannot (overstate) the experience I had last year (in Omsk),” Chinakhov said with help of an interpreter. “Playing with the guys, the stars, on that high level… of course, it helped me develop and did a lot of great things for me.”
The Traverse City prospect tournament was Chinakhov's first hockey foray to North America, and he didn't disappoint. Despite sitting out the final game, Chinakhov finished with six goals in three games to lead all players.
During a media availability last week, GM Jarmo Kekalainen said Chinakhov, of course, will have to earn his spot on the team, but did say Chinakhov "dominated" in Traverse City. Chinakhov signed his NHL entry contract back in May with the full expectation of keeping him locally in Columbus or Cleveland.
His goal to open up the pre-season definitely helped his case.
The 20-year-old made waves last year after displaying his laser beam of a wrist shot. Looking back at the 2020 draft class, few forwards can shoot at the velocity or accuracy that Chinakhov possesses. And yet, his shot seems even more dangerous these days.
"His wrister is going to fool so many top NHL goaltenders," a scout said. "He picks angles like it's nobody's business. But he clearly put even more practice into it during the summer because he simply doesn't miss."
Chinakhov had just under a 50 percent shooting percentage, which is crazy to think with the number of goals he scored in just three games. That should give him the confidence to thrive in camp for a team coming off an absolute dismal campaign. It's silly to bet against him making the club out of camp.
The Blue Jackets wouldn't have brought over the young forward if they didn't think he was going to make the team out of camp. Chinakhov could have been heavily into his second KHL season right now and Avangard did its best to hold on to him. But Chinakhov wants to be an NHLer sooner rather than later, and moving over was the right call.
There aren't many big expectations for Chinakhov. The adjustment to life in North America - the smaller ice, new teammates, new language, new lifestyle - will take some time to get adjusted. And that's OK. Columbus is going to be lousy again, but they're in a rebuild. The team continues to change its identity each season, and with a strong prospect base, having Chinakhov at the helm leading the charge is a sign of things to come.