By Andrew Heliotis
BELLEVILLE – He stands well over six feet tall on skates and is listed at 195 pounds. He shoots the puck at over 100 miles an hour and has been a key player everywhere he’s been. Not bad for a 15-year-old defenceman.
Jakob Chychrun made history this past holiday season as the only player to ever compete at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge – held this year in Cape Breton, N.S. – while still in minor midget. Chychrun (pronounced CHICK-run) had an impressive point-per-game finish and was tied for fourth on Team Ontario in scoring.
It was there that Belleville Bulls head coach and general manager George Burnett got his first glimpse of a young man many are heralding as hockey’s Next One.
The consensus is that Chychrun will be the No. 1 draft pick for the Ontario Hockey League this April.
“Jacob is an elite player at his age group, and when you have an opportunity to represent your province like he did and you’re younger than the rest of the players on your team – that’s quite a feather in your cap, to be put in a situation where the brass at Hockey Canada and Team Ontario feel that strongly about your game,” Burnett said.
Bulls defenceman Justin Lemcke played with Chychrun for the first time at the Under-17 tournament.
“It was really special to go over to Cape Breton and be with some of the guys I played against in minor midget and the amount of talent over there – and of course Chychrun came up and I’d never even played against him, so it was cool to see how good he was.”
Lemcke was impressed by Chychrun’s skating ability.
“Not just physically on the ice but also away from the ice he’s really mature. I think his skating might be the biggest thing he can do, but also his puck movement – he’s an all-around player.”
Physically it would be hard not to notice Chychrun even if he were in a National Hockey League dressing room. It was his size that Bulls forward Adam Laishram, 16, who is in his first season in the Ontario Hockey League, noticed when he met Chychrun as a fellow member of the Ontario Under-17 team.
“He sure doesn’t look 15, that’s the first thing. He’s got great height. And he’s not just lanky; he’s filled out, quite a bit more developed than some of the guys my age and even older.”
Laishram, who this season has lined up on the hash marks across from many of the greatest young talents in the league, said he sees Chychrun’s talents translating well to the OHL.
At the Under-17s, he “was right up there jumping in the rush. And he’s a physical presence – and I’m sure any team would be glad to have him,” Laishram said.
Chychrun’s final season in minor midget has been as #7 with the Greater Toronto Hockey League’s Jr. Canadians. He is the son of former NHL defencemen and Stanley Cup winner (with the Pittsburgh Penguins) Jeff Chychrun.
Jakob was born in Florida, but because his father was born in LaSalle, Que., he was able to choose between Canadian and American junior hockey. His decision to play in Toronto points heavily toward an OHL career. It was a decision, said the Bulls’ Burnett – who was Jeff Chychrun’s coach when he played in the American Hockey League – that he knows the Chychrun family took very seriously.
“They are a hockey family, and they certainly understand what all that means going into the next few months for him – during his playoff run (with the GTHL’s Canadiens), through to (that league’s) OHL Cup, then entering the OHL,” Burnett said.
Because there are still 18 games remaining in the OHL’s regular season, no one knows which team Chychrun will end up with. Lemcke, whom the Bulls picked in the first round of last year’s draft,said that in his experience “it’s a little bit of pressure the first couple games (in the OHL), then once you play two or three you realize it’s just hockey. But (Chychrun) will figure that out quick.”