2016 NHL Draft: Comparing the Top Ranked CHL Defencemen

At the age of 16, Jakob Chychrun won OHL Defenceman of the Year and was seen as a challenger to Auston Matthews. Now, he may not even be the first defender taken in the draft. | Photo: Metcalfe Photography.

At the age of 16, Jakob Chychrun was nominated for 2015 OHL Defenceman of the Year and was viewed as a possible challenger to Auston Matthews. | Photo: Metcalfe Photography.

Last season the answer to the question, “Who will be the first defencemen taken in the 2016 NHL Draft,” was: Jakob Chychrun. The defender just days before his 17th birthday was finalist for OHL Defenceman of the Year, despite missing 26 games.

With the draft just around the corner, the answer appears much murkier. Olli Juolevi, who has been on the radar for a while, impressed with his two-way game and elite hockey sense with the London Knights. On the other hand, Windsor Spitfires’ Mikhail Sergachev, shot up the rankings after a tremendous rookie season. While Calgary’s Jake Bean appears the least likely to be the first defender of the board (going by independent scouting rankings), his offensive upside might be the highest of the group.

I’ll introduce the players with a quick statistical breakdown, and concluding with talent analysis.

By the Numbers

First up, a basic analysis comparing points:

Top CHL D Total Production

The above stats are from Prospect-Stats.com. The best website on the internet. Seriously.

From a points perspective, there’s no denying the who the most impressive is: Jake Bean. The second-year defender scored 24 goals and tacked on 19 primary assists. He also finished third in Hitmen scoring. This production is a testament to his offensive game, featuring a booming shot and excellent vision.

Mikhail Sergachev is a close second, sitting fourth in Spitfires scoring and third in both scoring among defencemen and among rookies. His 17 goals were the second most of the group, while leading the group with 23 primary assists. He also averaged 2.33 shots on goal per game, but was backed by a 10.9 shooting percentage.

While Jakob Chychrun failed to crack his career-high of 16 goals from his rookie season, he did record an impressive 38 assists, 18 of which were primary. His 49 points were fourth in Sting scoring, and far ahead of the second placed defenceman on the team.

Olli Juolevi falls considerably behind the aforementioned three when it comes to raw production. He scored the fewest goals of the group with nine, but managed to keep pace with 18 primary assists.

Now, it’s time to break their production by situation:

Top CHL D Split Production

The above stats are from Prospect-Stats.com. The best website on the internet. Seriously.

While Jake Bean was clearly a step ahead of the rest and Olli Juolevi a step behind, all four players compare rarely closely in terms of powerplay points per game played. Bean lead the way with 0.485 PPP/GP, Juolevi last with 0.421 PPP/GP, and Sergachev and Chychrun landing at 0.463 and 0.452, respectively.

Perhaps the reason why Juolevi falls slightly behind is due to his powerplay usage. The London Knights led the entire CHL with 29.1%, but Juolevi alternated with Victor Mete on the first powerplay unit. So taking this into consideration, it’s a legitimate possibility that Juolevi played less powerplay time than the other three, who were all continuously on their teams’ top units.

The area that saw the largest difference was even-strength points per game. Bean’s outstanding 0.426 ESP/GP leads the way, with Juolevi once again falling behind. Sergachev was decently close to Bean, chipping in 0.373 ESP/GP. Juolevi’s 0.298 ESP/GP seems rather pale in comparison.

A quick summary:

  • Bean’s production was the best of the group, in terms of powerplay, even-strength, and just sheer volume of points.
  • Sergachev was a close second, leading the way in primary assists, but fell behind in terms of goals.
  • Chychrun ranked well relative to his teammates (13 points back of team lead, by far the leader of defenders on his team), but fell behind (despite his absurd shot production).
  • Juolevi doesn’t compare favourably, falling last in all categories, and was the weakest contributor relative to his teammates (however, keep in mind the strength of his team).

Analyzing Talents

Jakob Chychrun

Chychrun is an incredible skater, possessing high-end four way mobility and agility. Furthermore, his head is always up, constantly evaluating options. His skating might very well be the most technically-sound of the group. The powerful, coordination defender plays an advanced positional game, which is quite rare for a player his age. He combines his positioning with an active stick and strength well beyond someone his own age to regain possession and start the offence. However, Chychrun’s one-on-one defending is arguably the worst of the CHL’s four, which is a surprise given his tools.

In the offensive zone, Chychrun can dazzle from time to time, but most of his offence originates from smart, simple plays. He possesses a booming shot, which he uses often and effectively to generate to rebounds. He’s a shooting machine, averaging 3.21 shots on goal per game, which is the result of his excellent ability to find shooting lanes with his feet and hands. While he’s not a flashy stickhandler, he utilizes his feet, body, and hands in unison to power past incoming forwards to start the breakout and make the occasional rush. There’s not too much creativity in the offensive zone, certainly not as much as Bean or Sergachev, but he shows flashes that lead me to believe there’s room to grow there.

Olli Juolevi

Juolevi really became a known name with the average fan after his incredible performance at the WJC, which saw him rack up nine assists in seven games. In his most recent 31 games play, Juolevi has 27 points, which is a tremendous step up over his first half production.

Just like Chychrun, Juolevi is a graceful skater, possessing deceptively fast acceleration and flashes of separation speed. Similarly to Chychrun, Juolevi is a positionally-sound defender, but is much better one-on-one. He’s possesses a much more active stick than the other three, and he intercepts passes and disrupts plays at a higher rate. Like the entire Knights team, Juolevi is a controlled breakout machine, typically relying on a crisp, accurate breakout pass. He’s never pressured; always composed and rapidly processing the play.

There’s no doubt that Juolevi is the least flashy of the four, but he’s arguably the most consistently effective across the entire ice surface. His offensive game is composed of excellent passes (he consistently makes passes that the other don’t) and accurate shots. He doesn’t overwhelm goalies like Bean or Sergachev do, rather cleverly using traffic and finding the smallest of holes to beat goalies. Juolevi does show some hesitation to shoot, but that may be a result of the Knights style: Maintaining possession comes first. The elite breakout pass translates to a similar level of puck movement in the offensive zone, which I would argue is the best of the group.

Mikhail Sergachev

The youngest ever winner of OHL Defenceman of the Year is a powerful player across the ice: Hits hard, but shoots even harder. He’s a smooth skater with a deceptively fast top-end gear. While his acceleration isn’t quite as rapid as Juolevi or Chychrun’s, he does demonstrate a similar level of separation speed. Sergachev’s edge work is most noticeable in the offensive zone, where he utilizes his feet to create space and find shooting lanes. He possesses an arsenal of shots that rivals Jake Bean’s, featuring both a potent slapshot and wrister, which is a huge component of his 48 points in 48 games to wind down the season. His shot can be erratic at times, but the sheer velocity behind every shot is incredibly impressive. He is constantly active, always looking to make a pinch.

Where Sergachev shines beyond his shooting is his transitional play. He’s an aggressive defender, always trying to regain possession, whether that be through aggressive gap control, puck hounding, or body work. When it works, Sergachev has the ability to quickly start a rush the other way, either with a brilliant rush or an excellent outlet pass. However, he does get himself into trouble, and the urgency to correct these mistakes isn’t always there. He will need to learn to play more positional-based defence and utilize his stick more often.

Jake Bean

Jake Bean was free agent signing by the Calgary Hitmen last season. This season, Bean set a franchise record for goals by a defenceman with an incredible 24 goals. The offensive defender has worked hard to improve his skating, and it’s noticeable. While he lacks the acceleration the other three have, his edge work is glorious. This edge work, along with a combination of soft hands and fakes, allows him to waltz through traffic and aggressive activate off the blue line to create chances. None of the other defenders locate, create, and exploit passing lanes like Bean does. Bean also possesses arguably the best shooting ability of the group. Armed with a booming slapshot, a powerful wrister, and a deadly snapshot, Bean’s shooting arsenal resembles a sniper more than a defenceman.

While Bean’s shot generates a ton of chances, he also is able to create with crafty playmaking. He’s a smart passer with equally strong skill and vision. He utilizes the same combination of skills to locate passing lanes as he does shooting lanes. Bean excels at controlled exits, typically utilizing crisp outlet passes. However, it’s in his own zone that Bean runs into trouble. While Bean is perhaps an underrated defender, spending more time in the offensive zone than not. However, he seems often outmatched in battles, and also gets beat to the outside because his first step and overall speed need work. While his positioning is excellent, his decision-making can be questionable at times.

Discussion

All four–Bean, Chychrun, Juolevi, and Sergachev–possess excellent tools and skills. While Juolevi might be the most NHL-ready, maybe playing in the NHL as soon as next season, all four possess similarly high upside.

If I were to rank them based on who I believe is the best prospect, I would rank Juolevi first. I love Juolevi’s hockey sense and two-way game. While he’s not particularly flashy, he’s so effective in everything that he does, and possesses the most well-rounded toolkit. He also possesses what I consider the best vision of the group.

Second, Sergachev. While Sergachev isn’t as solid positionally as Chychrun, I’m a firm believer in his upside. His skating, shot, and sense are all excellent, and his ability to quick transition the puck up the ice, even if he’s not necessarily leading that rush, is what I value highly in NHL defenders.

Third, Chychrun. Chychrun’s tools are highly impressive. He certainly doesn’t play mistake free hockey like Juolevi does, and he lacks the offensive creativity that Sergachev and Bean have, but he does still possess a fabulous toolkit. It may be concerning that he failed to progress this year, but his overall body of work is that of a high-end prospect.

A very close fourth, Bean. I believe that Bean holds the most offensive upside, thanks to his combination of shooting, smarts, and skating, but his defensive game falls behind.

I believe that Juolevi is probably a clear cut above the rest, but the next three are all very close. It was tough to make a ranking of these four, and I’m sure my mind will change as the draft nears and I get in more viewings.

If the Habs do go for a defenceman with the ninth overall pick, there’s certainly no disputing they could have lots to choose from. The CHL four, as well as Dante Fabbro and Charlie McAvoy all could be interesting options.

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