Yegor Chinakhov is developing on and off the ice the way the Columbus Blue Jackets were hoping when they selected him in the first round (No. 21) of the 2020 NHL Draft.
The 19-year-old forward has scored 15 points (eight goals, seven assists) in 27 games for Omsk in the Kontinental Hockey League this season.
“He’s been very solid,” Blue Jackets European player development coach Jarkko Ruutu said. “I can’t tell by the way he plays that he’s 19 years of age and he’s playing on one of the top teams in the KHL and on the top line. He’s been very mature for his age.”
Chinakhov was fifth in Russia’s junior league last season with 69 points (27 goals, 42 assists) in 56 games, but this season has been about developing his all-around game.
“He plays responsible hockey on both sides of the puck, has a good shot and offensive abilities,” Ruutu said. “I’d like to a see a little more firmness on his 1-on-1 battles. That’s probably the biggest thing that when you take the next step you have to be very determined to win the battles … he’s fairly good at it, but he can take the next step at it and become more consistent with it.”
Working in Chinakhov’s favor is playing for Bob Hartley, who coached 944 NHL games for the Colorado Avalanche, Atlanta Thrashers and Calgary Flames, and won the Stanley Cup as Avalanche coach in 2001.
“Great kid, wants to learn,” Hartley said of Chinakhov. “Good size (6-foot, 178 pounds). Best part of his game is his wrist shot. We are working with him to improve his all-around game. Very good hockey sense. Skating is good. He is adjusting very well to the pro game.
“Yegor has shown me that he understands the game and he can adjust his game based on different situations. He wants to become a very reliable player on both sides of the puck. He is a quick learner, a very good student and it’s fun to teach him.”
Hartley’s NHL experience is one reason the Blue Jackets are happy with his role in Chinakhov’s development. The other is the language barrier.
“Bob is a demanding guy,” Ruutu said. “He knows what it takes to play at the next level. One of the key things with him as a coach is Yegor gets exposed to English on a daily basis.”
Chinakhov’s growing grasp of the language will help him when he gets to North America.
“Learning English is a very vital thing,” Ruutu said. “If you look at the big picture, the quicker you learn it, the more comfortable you’re understanding and speaking it, the quicker the adjustment. He’s not great at his English yet, but at least he’s getting exposed on a daily basis. That’s the first step on the way to North American hockey. It makes a big difference on coming over and getting used to a new team and a new setup and learning new habits in a new country.”
Four other NHL prospects currently playing well in Russia:
Ivan Fedotov, G, Chelyabinsk
Fedotov (6-6, 191) is third in the KHL with a 1.75 goals-against average and fourth with a .934 save percentage in 13 games. The Philadelphia Flyers selected the 24-year-old in the seventh round (No. 188) of the 2015 NHL Draft.
Egor Korshkov, F, Yaroslavl
The 24-year-old right wing has scored 19 points (10 goals, nine assists) in 29 KHL games. Korshkov (6-4, 214), chosen by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round (No. 31) of the 2016 NHL Draft, scored a goal in his NHL debut last season against the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 16.
Dmitry Ovchinnikov, F, Novosibirsk
Ovchinnikov (5-11, 161), chosen by the Maple Leafs in the fifth round (No. 137) of the 2020 draft, scored 30 points (11 goals, 19 assists) in 19 games with Novosibirsk’s team in the MHL, Russia’s junior league. That earned him promotion to the KHL, where the 18-year-old center has one shot on goal in five games.
Alexander Pashin, F, Tolpar Ufa
Pashin began the season with Ufa in the KHL but after three games the right wing was sent to Tolpar Ufa in the MHL, where he’s scored 26 points (10 goals, 16 assists) in 19 games. The 18-year-old (5-8, 154) was selected by the Carolina Hurricanes in the seventh round (No. 199) of the 2020 draft.
Five other NHL prospects to keep an eye on:
Jonatan Berggren (Detroit Red Wings), F, Skelleftea: Berggren (5-10, 181) is third in the Swedish Hockey League with 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 18 games. The 20-year-old right wing was chosen by the Red Wings in the second round (No. 33) of the 2018 NHL Draft.
Jan Jenik (Arizona Coyotes), F, Kettera: Jenik (6-1, 161) has scored eight points (five goals, three assists) in seven games in Mestis, the second division in Finland. A third-round pick (No. 65) by the Coyotes in the 2018 draft, the 20-year-old right wing sustained a season-ending knee injury playing for the Czech Republic at the 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship.
John-Jason Peterka (Buffalo Sabres), F, Salzburg: Peterka (5-11, 192) had five assists in a 5-3 win against Fehervar on Nov. 27. The 18-year-old right wing, selected by the Sabres in the second round (No. 34) of the 2020 draft, has scored 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 11 games in ICE Hockey League, the top professional league in Austria.
Arttu Ruotsalainen (Buffalo Sabres), F, Ilves: Ruotsalainen (5-8, 181) leads Liiga, the top professional league in Finland, in goals (16) and points (27) in 19 games. The Sabres signed the undrafted 23-year-old center to a three-year, entry-level contract May 8, 2019.
Juuso Valimaki (Calgary Flames), D, Ilves: Valimaki (6-2, 212) leads Liiga defensemen with 19 points (two goals, 17 assists) in 19 games after missing last season recovering from surgery to repair a torn ACL in his right knee. The Flames chose Valimaki in the first round (No. 16) of the 2017 NHL Draft.