If there were ever doubts about Jakob Chychrun's place as the top-ranked defensemen 2016 NHL Draft (I don't believe there were), his 2016 Under-18 World Championships performance should have reinforced his status as such.
In a class composed of high-end defensemen such as Olli Juolevi, Mikhael Sergachyov, Jake Bean, Charlie McAvoy, and Dante Fabbro, Chychrun's ability both as an athlete and as a skater have allowed him to rise above the rest.
A highly talented puck-carrying defensemen, Chychrun excels as an exceptional straightaway skater (forwards and backwards) who can create off the rush as a passer or as the primary option for entering the zone.
Gifted with the puck on his stick, Chychrun is a confident handler who isn't afraid to take risks by carrying the puck deep into the zone or with strong lateral footwork to move across the blueline under pressure and create opportunities towards the net.
At 6-2 and well over 200 pounds, Chychrun has also become -- and has kind of always been -- a physical, athletic specimen who plays a tough, physical style (particularly along the boards).
Not the best man-on-man defender (he has a tendency to overcommit to stick check or a hit and get lost following the puck against top forwards), Chychrun's ability to get back into the play with his skating and dictate up ice more than compensate for it.
And while Chychrun doesn't have as heavy a shot as Sergachyov, he's more gifted with the puck, which allows him to make plays around the net rather than being a more singular shot-from-the-point threat.
Prone to try to too often make the flashy play, Chychrun's elongated stride helps him close in on turnovers and retrieve the puck.
After narrowly missing the cut for Team Canada at the World Junior Championships, Chychrun blossomed in the second half of the season with the Sarnia Sting.
A former first overall pick in the OHL Priority Selection, Chychrun finished his 2015-2016 campaign at his best as a dominant playoff force (eight points in seven games) before Sarnia fell to the Soo Greyhounds in Game 7 of the first round.
In 2016, in response to being left off of Team Canada, Chychrun registered 31 points in 37 games (playoffs included) with the Sting.
A shot generating machine due to his ability as a puck handler and as a high slot presence, Chychrun finished third among OHL defensemen in shots on goal this season, leading all draft-eligible defenders by a large margin with 199 shots in 62 games (2016 NHL Draft defensemen Cam Dineen was closest with 165). His shot totals also surpassed many top draft-eligible forwards, including Matthew Tkachuk and Alex Nylander. He could have easily scored more, limited to 11 goals by a 5.5 per cent shooting percentage. And it wasn't for the lack of a good shot (he has a quick wind-up with a low, powerful kick that he gets in good areas).
On the international stage as an assistant captain in Canada's recent fourth-place finish at the U18 Worlds, Chychrun was utterly dominant for Team Canada while playing tough minutes in all situations.
Watch the way Chychrun confidently stepped by a forechecker in his own zone, carried the puck deep into Sweden's zone, tipped the puck to Tyson Jost below the goalline and then snuck to the shortside to score in Canada's eventual shootout loss to Sweden in the U18 semis on the weekend:
This sequence from deep in his own zone to the goal deep in the o-zone, is absolutely brilliant from Jacob Chychrun. pic.twitter.com/c5AWHBiRHJ— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) April 24, 2016
Named to the OHL's First All-Rookie Team and Third All-Star Team last season despite a shoulder injury, Chychrun finished fourth in the OHL in points and third in secondary points as a sophomore this season.
Much like with Noah Hanifin last season, years as a top prospect have led to searching for flaws in the game of a player who is otherwise an elite talent as a teenager. After the big three of Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Jesse Puljujarvi, Chychrun should be considered a front runner for fourth overall in a second (or third, because Matthews exists alone) tier of players that includes Alex Nylander, Clayton Keller, Matthew Tkachuk and Pierre-Luc Dubois -- in no particular order.
For the Leafs, a team that has a nearly 50/50 chance of selecting fourth overall, Chychrun represents a viable contender for the best player available in the slot while also fitting into a need in that the Leafs' pool of prospects is thin on the backend.
And while Chychrun, like Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner (both locked up with term), shoots left, his handedness shouldn't be used as an excuse to pass on him.