Jakob Chychrun may have some risks, but he should be one of Edmonton’s top trade targets 

Photo credit:© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
1 year ago
One of the biggest names on the NHL trade market for the past two seasons has been Jakob Chychrun. 
Recently, trade talks around the Arizona defenceman have reportedly escalated.
“It seems like it’s picking up and there’s a couple of reasons to consider for that,” said TSN insider Darren Dreger on Tuesday regarding the talk around Chychrun. “Obviously we’re at a point in the regular season where the pressure on general managers and on owners have progressed.”
Multiple teams have portrayed interest in him, and it’s quite obvious why. He’s a 6’2, 220lb, 24-year-old defenceman averaging 23 minutes per game in the past three seasons. Not to mention, he’s a cost-controlled asset, possessing a $4.6M AAV until 2025. 
There are plenty of teams in the NHL that are pursuing defensive help. Columbus, Ottawa, Los Angeles, and Long Island could all benefit from a big, minute-munching LD like Chychrun. On TSN Edmonton, Ryan Rishaug has mentioned Chychrun as a potential trade target for the Edmonton Oilers.

For the Oilers, it’s evident that their defensive play must improve, ranking 23rd in the league in goals allowed per hour, and 24th in expected goals allowed per hour.
The Oilers directly saw Chychrun first-hand on Wednesday night when they played the Coyotes. Edmonton won by a score of 8-2, but Chychrun managed to finish the night at an even +0 goal differential rating, alongside a 55% expected goal differential. Quite encouraging, to say the least.
In this piece, I’ll statistically break down Chychrun’s value, and answer some key questions; is Chychrun the answer to Edmonton’s defensive issues? Is he worth his hefty trade value?
*All microstats via Corey Sznajder, all other stats via EvolvingHockey and Natural Stat Trick unless stated otherwise

An overview of Chychrun’s on-ice impact

For several reasons, I’m fond of using scoring chance impact to evaluate a defenceman’s offensive and defensive ability. Firstly, a defenceman’s production totals and on-ice goals can largely depend on the finishing ability of the forwards they play with; for instance, if a defenceman consistently makes crisp and accurate breakout passes to their forwards, yet they fail to finish or convert, is it largely the defenceman’s fault? Furthermore, the amount of goals against a player is on-ice can be heavily influenced by goaltending, and this is especially true on poor teams with poor goaltending, such as Arizona. 
This isn’t to say that production and goal differential is useless for defencemen, because they most definitely aren’t, but I feel that scoring chance impact tends to be a more accurate representation of their true abilities.
So, here’s a look at Chychrun’s isolated offensive and defensive scoring chance impact in the past four seasons, adjusted for teammates, competition, and zone starts (this adjustment isn’t perfect, but it’s generally quite accurate):
Chychrun was superb at both ends of the ice in 2019-20. The prior season, he primarily played second-pairing minutes, but after Niklas Hjalmarsson suffered a broken left fibula, Chychrun obtained more responsibility, and clearly performed well in a more difficult role. 
In 2020-21, his minutes increased to over twenty-three minutes per game. His offensive play-driving stayed relatively the same, and his defensive metrics slightly dropped, but they still remained above average on a mediocre Arizona team. 
However, many will note that the most significant difference between these two seasons was Chychrun’s rise in production; he produced 18 goals and 41 points in the shortened 56-game season, a pace of 26 goals and 60 points over a full 82 games. This is an excellent rate of production, especially for a defenceman. His 0.73 EV goals per 60 placed first among all NHL defencemen that year with a minimum of 500 TOI.
With that said, Chychrun was on a massive and unsustainable shooting percentage heater; his career-average SH% is 5.6%, and he placed at 10.5% that year. 
Predictably, his goal-scoring regressed in 2021-22, but so did his offensive play-driving. His impact on scoring chances cratered all the way towards the 7th percentile. His overall even-strength production was still fine for a defenceman, but Arizona generated significantly more scoring chances with Chychrun off-ice. However, his defensive impact improved to the 90th percentile.
My guess is that Chychrun focused more on the defensive side of the puck as Arizona significantly declined. In 2021-22, Arizona ranked second-last in the NHL, and last in the Western Conference and the Central Division. They were poor all-around, and it seems like Chychrun was forced to sacrifice some offence, and the fact that he managed to improve defensively on such an awful team is impressive. Some may point out his unappealing -20 +/- as a counter-argument, but that was largely influenced by Arizona’s abysmal goaltending.
It’s reasonable to deduce that 2021-22 was simply an outlier. He dealt with some notable injuries that year, and again, Arizona’s record saw a steep decline between 2020-21 and 2021-22. 
It’s a limited sample, but he’s performed exceptionally well in his nine games since returning from his wrist operation. His offensive play-driving is at a career-high, he’s nearly producing at a point-per-game pace, and his defensive impact remains well above-average.
The fact that Chychrun has produced positive defensive results in each of the past five seasons on the Coyotes is impressive. Especially considering his deployment, that’s not an easy feat.

Chychrun’s playing style, and specific strengths and weaknesses

To dive deeper into Chychrun’s play, and to get a sense of if he’s a stylistic fit in Edmonton or not, let’s take a look at Chychrun’s microstats.
Firstly, here are his offensive results in the past two seasons:
The bright side: Chychrun’s most valuable asset is his exceptional skating and puck-moving abilities. He thrives at entering the zone and carrying the puck in.
By a significant margin, Chychrun is Arizona’s best player at generating shots off the rush, including both individual rush shots and assists on rush shots. A notable portion of his zone entries lead to scoring chances for.
Aside from the Arizona game, one of the reasons for Edmonton’s struggles at consistently scoring at 5v5 this season is due to the decline in their rush offence. As of November 21, the Oilers rank 26th in the NHL in chances off the rush, which is concerning for a roster containing McDavid and Draisaitl. Chychrun could provide a boost in this regard.
The downsides: His zone exit results are OK. Chychrun doesn’t seem like a spectacular playmaker, especially in the offensive zone. Some of that is likely impacted by the quality of teammates, but regardless, it’s evident that the majority of his offence comes off the rush. 
A (potential) concern with Chychrun’s potential stylistic fit on the roster is his rate of point shots. With a total of 15.6 5v5 shot attempts per hour, he ranks 3rd among all defencemen in the past three seasons. The Oilers already have two defencemen in the top ten in 5v5 shot attempts per 60; Evan Bouchard (2nd) and Darnell Nurse (9th). Tyson Barrie (26th) doesn’t rank far off either.
On a team with Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, it would be more desirable for the forwards to shoot more than the defencemen, so having four shot-happy defencemen on the roster may be unpreferable. 
Now, this isn’t as significant of an issue, and perhaps Chychrun shoots at this rate simply due to the team he plays on (it’s not like Arizona has a lot of talented shooters), but I feel it’s something worth mentioning.
As for the defensive microstats (note that retrievals were only tracked in 2021-22):
After the coaching change last season, the Oilers had significantly improved at defending chances off the rush. However, they’ve been poor at this facet yet again this season. Only two of their defencemen rank above average in regards to zone denial% (Bouchard and Kulak)
Consequently, a defenceman strong at denying entries and rush chances would be a more preferable target. Taking a glance at Chychrun’s results, he doesn’t seem to match those criteria, but with that said, entry defence can be heavily driven by systems.
Some coaches will tell their defencemen to give up the blueline more often, and Arizona may be one of them; every single one of their defencemen ranked below average in controlled entry against%. In fact, Chychrun was Arizona’s best defenceman at preventing chances off entries against last season, so it’s likely that his raw metrics rebound on a better team.
On the bright side, Chychrun is Arizona’s best defenceman at retrieving pucks in the defensive zone. He would also rank first among Edmonton defencemen in retrievals per hour as well.
Aside from entry defence and retrievals, there aren’t a ton of publicly available defensive microstats, but there are some snapshots of proprietary metrics online. Per Sportsnet and SportLogIQ, Chychrun ranked first in the league in stick checks, and eleventh in puck battles won in 2020-21.
From this, we can deduce that Chychrun’s major strength when it comes to defence is his in-zone defending. Chychrun has a strong defensive stick and uses his size and physicality to consistently win puck battles along the boards, and this plays a role in his excellent DZ retrieval abilities. From what I’ve seen, he also seems much less prone to simple errors in his own zone, and he’s one of Arizona’s only players that rank proficiently in defending shot quality (xGA/FA). 
Edmonton doesn’t really have any strong in-zone defenders at all, aside from perhaps Cody Ceci when he plays in a lower role, so acquiring Chychrun could be exceedingly beneficial in this regard.
With his playing style in mind, which defenceman could he fit well with?
Chychrun and Bouchard complement each other in several ways. Chychrun is unexceptional at zone exits, and his entry defence abilities are uncertain. Bouchard is Edmonton’s best defenceman at entry denials and zone exits. Meanwhile, Bouchard struggles at defending in his own zone and winning puck battles along the boards, and these are areas that Chychrun excels in. They would make a deadly offensive transitional pair. However, the only concern is that both of them shoot at excessive rates, so one of them will need to reduce their shooting rates.
Chychrun and Ceci could be formidable in their own zone but may struggle at defending entries. They could still work, but I prefer Bouchard.
I wonder how well Brett Kulak can perform at RD; he does have experience playing RD in Montreal. Kulak could be a nice stylistic fit for Chychrun, as he’s strong at entry defence and exits. Kulak is unexceptional offensively, though, and ranks below average at defending in his own zone, but these are traits that Chychrun is quite good at.
An added benefit of a Chychrun trade is that it reduces the load and stress placed on Nurse.
If Chychrun was in Edmonton, he would challenge Nurse for the 1LD role. It could also be a “1A/1B”  situation, or the TOI and QoC are split evenly between Nurse and Chychrun’s pairs. 

Conclusion; is Chychrun worth his trade value?

Nov 23, 2022; Raleigh, North Carolina, USA; Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun (6) comes off the ice after warmups against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports
Overall, are his on-ice results and microstats phenomenal? It’s arguable, and depends on how you look at it.
However, posting strong offensive and defensive numbers in three of the past four years on an awful Arizona roster at his young age does seem impressive to me. Publicly available teammate-adjusted metrics aren’t flawless, and may always underrate players on poor teams. Chychrun’s current results already paint him as a very good #2-3 defenceman, and there’s a likely possibility he’s even better than that. 
In the past three seasons, Arizona has a 49% expected goal share with Chychrun on-ice. At glance, that isn’t awe-inspiring, but without him, they’re at 42%; for reference, that’s a worse xGF% than any of the Decade of Darkness Oilers teams. This season alone, Arizona is at a 47 xGF% with Chychrun, and a 37 xGF% without. Chychrun is a legitimately strong player stuck on an awful team.
To be fair, there are some uncertainties with his potential stylistic fit on this roster. For instance, to what extent is his entry defence impacted by Arizona’s system? Are his poor in-zone playmaking metrics and his excessive rate of point shots the result of a substandard forward group? As of now, we can make educated guesses, but it’s difficult to have a clear answer to these questions. Chychrun’s injury history is also a concern; he’s dealt with knee, shoulder, ankle and wrist issues.
That said, there are plenty of positives. Chychrun is a big, 24-year-old, cost-controlled LD that skates and moves the puck exceptionally well. Players that can perform well under his level of deployment (high QoC, low QoT) are often a rarity on the trade market.
He’s dangerous off the rush, and he would be Edmonton’s best in-zone defender. His most common forward teammates in Arizona have been Keller and Schmaltz; they’re fine players, but I’m confident that many of his microstats, such as in-zone assists, rebound when playing with McDavid and Draisaitl.
His shoulder and knee issues were prior to his breakout as a top-pairing defenceman, and so far, he seems to have rebounded well after his wrist operation.
You could argue that Edmonton needs a RD more than a LD, but currently, there’s no RD available with plenty of experience against tough QoC and superior defensive results to Chychrun. Furthermore, players with a track record of reliably and consistently playing tough minutes against elite QoC aren’t always available, making him that much more appealing as a trade target, especially at his $4.6M AAV. 
According to Zach Laing here, Bob Stauffer has stated that the asking price for Chychrun is similar to what Boston traded for Hampus Lindholm. Boston traded a 2022 1st, a 2023 2nd, a 2024 2nd, Urho Vaakanainen, and John Moore. The equivalent of a trade package that Edmonton could send would likely be a 2023 1st, a 2024 2nd, a 2025 2nd, Philip Broberg, and a player to make the cap work (Barrie preferably, although Foegele/Puljujarvi with salary retained is also a possibility).
Is it worth it? In my mind, I think so.
The picks that Edmonton trades won’t make an NHL impact until McDavid and Draisaitl’s contracts expire.
Some may argue; what if Broberg becomes just as good, if not better than Chychrun? That is a legitimate possibility, but quite uncertain. It’s unsure when Broberg develops into an impact player. On the other hand, Chychrun is a prominent top-four defenceman right now. Chychrun has a superior chance of helping the Oilers right now in the McDavid/Draisaitl era than Broberg does. 
Again, there are several risks with Chychrun, and his injury history is a noteworthy concern. He also isn’t the only impactful defenceman available on the trade market. Edmonton shouldn’t rush to make a decision, and they should explore other options (not named Joel Edmundson) as well.
However, it’s not often that a player of Chychrun’s calibre will be available. If Chychrun replicates his exact results with Arizona on Edmonton’s roster, they will considerably improve at both ends of the ice, and I’d bet there’s a very strong possibility he further improves as he shifts to a better team, especially considering his age.
In my opinion? Go for it.
Find me on Twitter (@NHL_Sid)

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