Oh, the game of hockey. It’s a sport that you can’t quite understand the excitement and stressfulness of it unless you’ve experienced it first-hand. The excitement of scoring your first goal, laying your first big hit, the shock (or sometimes pain) of getting hit, the adrenaline rush after deking past a couple of players and driving the net, the heartbreaking losses and the memorable wins. You can’t experience those things anywhere else but the ice we play this wonderful game on, whether it is at the rink, in your backyard, or at the pond. Hockey can also translate towards real life skills such as: discipline, perseverance, overcoming adversity etc. You can’t really learn these things on your own. It comes with experience and having someone who can guide you to meet your full potential. This is where experience comes into play. In life, if you want a job, you need experience. To teach a subject, you have to have intense knowledge of the topic at hand. Lastly, to coach a kid(s), you need to have experienced the game first hand. Now, that’s not to say that in-experienced people can’t pass along their knowledge to someone, but having that experience on your resume is nice.
The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word “experience” is my family. Being the youngest in my family, I benefit from getting advice about different situations and environments from my siblings and parents whether it’s about sports, school or work to prepare myself for the future. With all that being said, when it comes to learning about hockey, the one person you’ll always learn from throughout your playing career, is your father.
Although my father and I never played professionally, we both played at a high enough level that we were able to be competitive and travel. My dad went from teaching all the basics skills of the game, to understanding it, to putting me in different power skating classes for development, to travelling and watching me apply what he had taught. This resulted in some unforgettable moments throughout my hockey career.
So why am I telling you all this? I’m here to inform you readers that although we never liked listening to our parents or admitting that they’re right at such a young age, they certainly play a part in the success you experience in life.
Now, I take you to a different perspective on a higher scale. I was very fortunate to get in touch with a former NHL player who was drafted 37th overall in 1984 and experienced success in his time during the game, ultimately winning the Stanley Cup. He played against and with the best of ‘em. He was an effective player and he is a good man. Leafs nation, my talk with Jeff Chychrun.
Jordan MacKenzie: Jeff, people today who have heard about you or even just your name, most likely only know that you’re a former NHL player and Jakob Chychrun’s father. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? Maybe about how the game of hockey came into the Chychrun family and the affect it’s had?
Jeff Chychrun: I grew up in Nepean, ON and I played for the Nepean Raiders, my minor hockey league team growing up and I also played tier two for the junior team their prior to being drafted by the Kingston Canadians. I then went on to join the Flyers organization where I started my pro career. Hockey’s been in my family; my dad grew up in Saskatchewan on a farm and passed along his love for the game to me. He’s 77 and still skates a couple of times a week with his group in Ottawa. During the summer time, Jakob and I play with him on Wednesday nights in Arnprior, ON with a group of guys, and to me it’s one of those life memories. It’s a family thing as well, we’re always supporting Jakob and even when I played junior, my family was at rink with me and we’re always there for each other as a family.
JM: You were a member of four different NHL clubs in your career including the Pittsburgh Penguins when they won the Stanley cup in 1991-92. That team consisted of players such as Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux. Is it fair to say that you passed your NHL experience along to your son Jakob in order to prepare him for his journey to the NHL and if so, what kind of advice have you given him?
JC: I was fortunate enough to play with a lot of great players and right from the start at the Flyers organization there were a lot of people that worked for the club that were hall of famers, Stanley Cup champions and that group had a really great tradition of success. When I was lucky enough to have a son that plays hockey, the first thing I wanted him to do was really love to play and the second thing I wanted was for him to have a real high skill level. I stressed passion and loving the puck as well as encouraging him to make mistakes when he played. I coached him a lot throughout his youth hockey career and I encouraged all the kids to get out there, make mistakes, play different positions, play different sports and try different disciplines that would make them better hockey players. Those include taking time off hockey and studying hard in school, but also playing baseball, golf, soccer etc. I stressed passion and skill to Jakob a lot, from playing with guys like Mark Howe, Paul Coffey and Rob Blake, I knew that playing with the kind of skillset those guys had makes the game a lot more fun to play.
JM: As a parent of a high profile hockey player in today’s social media age, how do you filter out any hockey related negativity that is directed toward your son?
JC: That’s a tough one; it’s new to a lot of us. People will judge but all you can do is try to block out the exterior noise (critiquing, scouts). Basically just do what you’d normally do: go to the rink, work hard, be a leader, show your teammates how hard you work and help your team get better so that everyone looks good. If you do your best to block out the exterior noise and enjoy what you do then that’s all that matters, you’re one step ahead of the game.
JM: When you’re a highly touted player, the media is on you, there’s no escaping it. With that being said, is there a level of concern from your family with the amount of focus that will be put on Jakob this upcoming season?
JC: There is a little concern about things that are being said on social media and what people might be thinking but we just try and make sure that not just Jakob, but both our children conduct themselves properly on social media (setting a good image). It’s not something we can overly control, that’s just the way society is, we’re so news driven. I just get Jakob to focus on what he likes to do. Everything else, especially the draft, will come and take care of itself.
JM: The game of hockey has really changed since you’ve played, less physicality and more speed. Did you have to sort of change your approach in coaching your son?
JC: You know, as parents we’re always coaching him right? [Laughs] Even when he was younger it was all about skill and not about systems or that kind of thing. I didn’t want to be the coach to tell his defenseman to always make the safe play (hit the low winger or fire it hard around the boards) or else they get used to doing that and once you get to the bantam and midget level, you don’t have a defenseman who can carry the puck in the middle of ice or control the power play. It didn’t matter where he was playing, I always taught the skill level.
JM: What would you say is the biggest difference between you at 17 years old and Jakob at 17 years old?
JC: Jakob defends really hard in all 3 zones, he sees the ice so well, and he’s really on the puck as well and has a great shot. My game was much simpler. The best part of my game was from the defensive zone to the attacking blue line. When I got the puck at the point, I’d shoot it or get it deep. Jakob is so creative in the offensive zone, he’s always looking to set up his teammates or create an offensive opportunity, I just think the way Jakob plays the game is a lot more fun than the way I played. His offensive instincts are better than mine, his overall confidence and physical maturity as well. He is definitely a year ahead of whatever I was for sure.
JM: A scout informed me that Jakob has a lot of similarities in his game to Chris Pronger. Do you agree with that assessment? If not, can you tell us which past or present NHL defensemen you would use as a comparable, and do you see a lot of yourself in his game?
JC: There are a lot of similarities, both play well in all the three zones, quarterback power plays, they are creative during 5-on-5 play, both can lead a rush if need be, only difference would be size and skating. Current NHL player comparable players would be the guys that play a 2-way game, handle the puck and see the ice well, are leaders on their respective clubs, and eat up minutes, guys like Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith. I don’t feel comfortable saying that Jakob plays exactly like them because he hasn’t played an NHL game yet, but some similarities are certainly there. In terms of what we share, definitely passion, the compete and intensity level.
JM: Now obviously you’re always seeing good things coming from Jakob while he’s playing, but was there ever a moment while watching him play that you realized “Wow, he really is on another level compared to his opponents and teammates”?
JC: When Jakob was 14 years old, he played in a U16 league for Little Ceasars, so he played against 16 and 15 year olds, he lead all defenseman in points that year. Besides that, it was his confidence with the puck, skill level and instincts at his age that I thought could propel him to higher levels in the game. He’s also a very good practice player, when he was 11 playing pee-wee, I was an assistant that year and one day, we couldn’t make practice and the head coach called me and said practice this week was terrible because Jakob wasn’t there to set the pace. He knows how to prepare himself and his teammates for games.
JM: If yes, I’m not expecting you to name it or them, but in the back of your mind, is there a team in the NHL you hope Jakob gets drafted to?
JC: It’s not something that’s in our control. I can certainly mention some teams that would be neat but it’s not something we discuss. It’s a privilege earned and not a right to play in the NHL and you should be blessed to play on any club.
Like anything in life, experience is everything and when it comes to hockey, there’s no doubt Jeff certainly has it. A lot of off-ice things are mentioned as well, such as maintaining a strong relationship with your family, which as you read, definitely seems to describe the Chychrun’s and i’m positive that can play a huge role in a young player’s journey to his dream as an NHL player.
When we think experience in the NHL, the first thing that comes to mind is a player that’s been in the league for at least five years and has been to the playoffs and/or has won a Stanley Cup. Junior players can also hold some pretty good experience as well. For example, CHL players have their own playoffs to compete in as well. Leaders of those teams have that extra element of experience as they deal with how to lead on and off the ice, bringing their team together.
Now, where am I going with this? Well, since 2008, our Maple Leafs have only selected three defensemen with first round picks; Luke Schenn, Stuart Percy and Morgan Rielly. Not a good amount for a position that’s been a weakness for a few years now. Numbers aside, the defensemen mentioned above have had good contributions towards this team and brought different forms of experience with them from their respective time in junior hockey:
Luke Schenn: U20 WJ gold medalist in 2008 and wore an “A” for the Kelowna Rockets.
Stuart Percy: CHL Memorial Cup finalist, OHL finalist, U17 WHC silver medalist in 2009-10, Ivan Hlinka Memorial gold in 2010-11, wore the “C” for Mississauga after being drafted by Toronto.
Morgan Rielly: U17 WHC bronze medalist, Ivan Hlinka Memorial gold in 2011-12, and wore an “A” for Moose Jaw after being drafted by Toronto.
Toronto hasn’t given themselves the chance to develop highly touted defenseman over the years but when they did, its worked out. Schenn was good for the club but then was flipped to the Flyers for James Van Riemsdyk. Percy only made nine starts for the big club but put up three points and did not look out of place. He now sees himself playing a big role for the Marlies and could very well see a spot in the big clubs top-six on the backend. Morgan Rielly remains on this roster and will be for some time.
Bottom line here, the leafs are loaded up front in their system and have some decent pieces on the back end, but none in which compare to the likes of Nylander, Marner, Kapanen etc. Now with coaches such as Babcock & Keefe and with the likelihood of finishing worse than last season, now is the time to go and snag that missing corner stone player on the backend with Rielly. For those who haven’t clued in yet, that player, is Sarnia Sting defenseman, Jakob Chychrun.[gap]
Jakob Chychrun is an Ontario Hockey League defenseman who plays for the Sarnia Sting and projected to go in the top-three of the 2016 NHL Entry Draft. He was drafted 1st overall in the 2014 OHL priority selection. Chychrun’s game consists of skill and creativity in the offensive zone with some hard defending as mentioned by his father. In his first season with the Sarnia Sting, the 6’2, 215lbs defensemen was already seen wearing an “A” as one of the teams’ assistant captains and finished with 16 goals, 17 assists for 33 points in 42 games. The 42 games played in his first year were due to a couple of injuries he had suffered which included him missing the postseason and raising a little concern.
With some recovery time in the offseason and a good start to this year, concern seems to be out of the picture for now as Jakob and the boys in Sarnia are enjoying a great start to their 2015-2016 campaign. But what makes Jakob Chychrun so special? The on-ice stuff is great but there’s slightly more to the 17-year-old’s game rather than his talents on the ice:
“He’s a huge presence in our dressing room, a real leader. The way he goes about his day-to-day life is professional from top to bottom. His work ethic is exceptional and he does so much off the ice for us. That really compliments the tremendous talent that we see on the ice so often.”
– Sting General Manager Nick Sinclair
You’ve heard from his father, his general manager and I know I’d love for you readers to hear from one more person about Jakob Chychrun. That person is Jakob Chychrun himself.
Jordan MacKenzie: Jake, you’ve certainly come a long way in order to get to where you are now. Can you briefly tell us how your journey has been so far? Any major adversity and/or highlight(s) you can share with us?
Jakob Chychrun: The way I got to where I am now is pretty unusual, having the opportunity to play hockey down south, I think it’s very special. I played there until I was about 11 or 12. Personally I think I’m very lucky to have had the opportunity to live down south, play hockey during the week and go to the beach on the weekends and luckily I had my dad whose an ex NHL’er. He was my coach growing up and he coached me the right way. He’s been a really big influence on me and I don’t think I would be where I am today without him. I’m very thankful for every opportunity that’s led me to where I am today.
JM: Your dad mentioned family playing a big role in your respective journeys, one family member that stood out to me was your grandpa. Can you share with us the roll he’s played throughout your journey to this point?
JC: He’s my role model. He’s always been so close to my heart. He’s 76-years-old and still manages to play hockey twice a week. Every summer, my dad plays with him in a little men’s league up at our cottage and the last few of years I’ve been able to get out there so we’d have three generations out there twirling around together. Those are definitely very special times. We go out for wings after on Wednesday nights. I’ve always got to see him a lot every year, I’d spend all summer with him and he’s always up at the cottage a lot working the chainsaw. He’s helping us put the dock in for the boat. He grew up on a farm in Saskatchewan so he’s built like an ox. When I’m his age I definitely hope to be in half the shape he’s in now. He’s just such a sweet guy and like I said, definitely one of my role models.
JM: Could you take us through a day in the life of Jakob Chychrun when he’s not on the ice?
JC: The biggest thing is people think junior hockey players don’t think about or even attend school at all which is very false. We have a full schedule of school during the week and with our team, if you’re past the age of high school then its mandatory to take at least one university or college course. I’m in school from 8:20am to 2:30pm every day during the week. Right from school we go to the rink, we usually have video sessions before practice. Early in the week we’ll practice for about an hour, later in the week we’ll go for about 45-50 minutes. There’s a workout after practice which is pretty tough unless we’re close to game days. After Tuesday’s practices we’ll have mandatory team movies, get the boys together for extra bonding time. We also go out for sushi at times which we love a lot. Besides that, I’m at my billet place with my family there who I have a great relationship with. I watch television and play Xbox when I can or I do my homework.
JM: Do you get into any community work at all if you have time?
JC: Yes for sure. In school every day I have a class called Peopel (Physical Education Opportunity Program for Exceptional Learners) program, I have a little buddy there, Garrett who has down syndrome and a form of autism, I work with him every day. I run his gym class as well. Working with him is really special. We’re in the gym either playing basketball or dodgeball with his classmates and it’s definitely one of my favorite times of the day. Other than the stuff that’s organized by the team, guys like me who are in school normally take kids out to dinner at Boston Pizza usually once a week and we do out of town practices so that kids can come watch then skate with us afterwards for pictures and autographs. Same goes for after our games.
JM: You were selected in both the USHL draft and OHL priority selection. What made you select the OHL over USHL?
JC: Well, I wanted to play in the USHL as a 15-year-old, which some kids have done in the past. My teammate Anthony DeAngelo did it, I played with him in my first year at Sarnia. Before joining the OHL he played in the USHL as a 15-year-old. When I was drafted I had all intentions of playing in the league, unfortunately I wasn’t allowed by USA hockey and that’s why I went to play in Toronto for my OHL draft year and from there on out, I knew I wanted to play in the OHL. When I was drafted, I was very excited to get started in Sarnia.
JM: Can you give us a mini scouting report about yourself, as well as a player you try and model your game after?
JC: I would consider myself a 2-way defenseman. I played forward growing up so I love scoring goals, playing with the puck, being offensive with it when I see opportunities and jumping up into the play. At the same time, I definitely take pride in the defensive-zone. I love playing hard in the corners, in front of my net. I also enjoy playing in all situations; I enjoy the power play as much as the penalty kill. Drew Doughty is a player I try to model my game after, he’s one of my favorite players. He’s got two Stanley Cups, he played a big part in those. He’s very special with the puck in the offensive zone but at the same time he makes himself a tough player to play against, he doesn’t make it easy for the forwards in the defensive-zone. Plays with a chip on his shoulder and that’s what I love about him.
JM: You wear an A for the Sarnia Sting, can you describe to us what kind of leader you are?
JC: Leadership is something I’ve always taken pride in. Right away it starts with my work ethic, one of the things my dad always taught me as a kid was the only thing you can control is how hard you work and it’s something i’ve always kept close to me. I think that’s really helped build the work ethic I have today. I always like to think that I’m the hardest working guy wherever I am, whatever im doing, even away from the rink. I take pride in always giving it my all, I’m really competitive and I think my work ethic rubs off on some of the guys. When we need it, I can be verbal and in the room if we need a pump up before the game, I will speak up, that’s the kind of leader I am.
JM: As you most likely already know, one of the best coaches in the game in Mike Babcock is now coaching the Toronto Maple Leafs. Have you thought about the possibility of playing under him during a rebuild period at all?
JC: [Laughs] I get asked this question quite a bit. It’s tough not to when people are bringing it up to you but, you try your best not to look to far ahead. Off the top of my head, obviously it’d be really special if I ever got the opportunity, I’d be more than thrilled to play for Mike Babcock as a Toronto Maple Leaf.
JM: The Maple Leafs selected Mitch Marner in the 2015 draft; us fans have identified a couple of players to be potential line mates for him in the future. That being said, it remains to be seen who Morgan Rielly’s partner would be. Do you think you would have what it takes to come in and carry a solid work load alongside a fellow young defenseman in Rielly if selected by Toronto?
JC: Obviously, I’d give it my all. When I was playing in Toronto, I got to go out to a few Leafs games. My buddy’s girlfriend had season tickets there, she had a box and it was great to go to those games. Morgan’s definitely a very young and talented player who I think can be a good NHL player for a long time. To have the opportunity to play alongside him would definitely be something very special for me and I think I’d learn a lot from him.
It’s safe to say that Jake has gained quite a bit of experience at just 17-years-old and will certainly continue to acquire a lot more throughout his career.
So, why all of this? Why interview both father and son? Well, similar to what I wrote on Dmytro Timashov, because since this season will be a long and painful one, I thought I’d inform Leafs Nation on what’s ahead, which is the potential opportunity of grabbing a cornerstone player on the back end. Not only a special player, but a great young man as well.
What can we expect come draft time in 2016? I have a few things in mind: One, at this rate, we should win the draft lottery. Two, expect an abundance of picks for the draft from deadline/offseason deals and lastly, the potential words from Mark Hunter that will consist of “With the first overall pick, Toronto is proud to select…” Do you know who to pick come draft time? I know I certainly do, his name is Jakob Chychrun ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for reading.
Road to the NHL: Interviews with Jeff and Jakob Chychrun
Huge thank you to both Jeff and Jakob Chychrun for taking the time out of there busy schedules to be part of the interviews. I’d like to wish them and the rest of the family all the best!