When the Leafs selected Russian junior prospect Nikolai Chebykin 172nd overall with the first pick of the seventh round of the 2016 NHL Draft, most fans had likely already tuned out the coverage.
Seventh round picks, after all, aren’t supposed to amount to much. For those who were still paying attention, almost nobody would have heard of Chebykin. Unless you were a scout, a diehard follower of the KHL’s Dynamo Moskva, or Russian, you’d probably never heard of Chebykin. At Future Considerations, we ranked him 201st overall. At the time, he had only once represented his country at a best-on-best international event.
He was fresh off posting 35 points in 39 games in the MHL, Russia’s top junior league, as NHL Central Scouting’s 50th ranked European Prospect. At 6-3 and more than 200 pounds, the Leafs took a shot on a physical, left-handed winger with decent offensive production. But he was a relative unknown, especially with names like Maxime Fortier (no. 73), Otto Somppi (no. 105), David Quenneville (no. 117), Ty Ronning (no. 108), and David Bernhardt (no. 101) still on the board.
But more than half a season later, where is the Leafs’ most recent (technically, he is) draftee at and how has he progressed? I watched backed the entirety of three of his games, at different points this year in the MHL, to find out. There are a few things that are clear — beyond the fact that he scored five goals, without counting his assists.
The first, is that Chebykin has, this season, quickly outgrown the MHL.
While it’s expected a 19-year-old NHL prospect should dominate at his age, Chebykin’s game has grown enough that he’s more than just dominant. In his last four MHL games, the powerful winger has 10 points, including an almost-silly eight goals. In nine of his 17 games this season, he has generated five or more shots on goal. Along the way, he has been held off the scoresheet just four times (one of which he was ejected from in the first period) on route to 27 points, including 17 goals, in 17 games. He has twice (on January 20 and November 26) registered five or more points in a game. He sits second in the MHL in shots per game with 4.4 (74 in 17). This, while playing on a 31-team league’s 23rd-place team, a HC MVD team that has scored just 125 goals in 50 games.
The second, is not only that he’s used his shot more but that it has developed some extra kick. Chebykin’s 23% shooting percentage is a testament to his release. He also likes to shoot low, which is rare among young players who have a tendency to look for the lower-percentage high-glove corner and too often miss the net as a result.
Chebykin picked up 10 shots in the three games I watched, and nine of them were directed at the lower half of the net. On both of the following goals, Chebykin uses a quick release, with little drawback, to feather a puck over the goalie’s pad.
The third, as evidenced in part in that second goal, is that he loves the front of the net. This might be the most consequential of the three takeaways, because few big, strong, talented young players go to the net on a regular basis. Often, it has to be taught. With Chebykin, it’s clear even away from each of these goals that he’s a net-driven, north-south player.
In each of the following three goals, Chebykin is in or on top of the crease:
Ultimately, Chebykin offers more than just size and weight — and maybe a little more than some might expect out of a seventh rounder who has yet to stick at the KHL level (in seven games in the KHL, he has just one goal). He also doesn’t tend to overly rely on the powerplay to create (27 of his 32 career MHL goals have come shorthanded or at even-strength).
With Dynamo Moscow, Chebykin hasn’t been given a real chance to stick, averaging just 2:46 TOI and four shifts per game. In fact, four of Chebykin’s seven games saw him play less than 1:30, including just eight seconds on November 25.
Next year, if he can step into a full-time role in the KHL, Chebykin might offer some intrigue as a potential candidate for an entry-level deal. Physically, and stylistically, his game should translate well professionally (he’s a fine skater). At the very least, he’s someone worth keeping more of an eye on.