There’s little question that when it comes to physically imposing prospects eligible for the 2016 NHL draft, Jakob Chychrun and Julien Gauthier rank at or near the top of the list.
They both certainly showed off their feats of strength and fitness at the recent NHL draft combine.
Chychrun, a defenceman with the OHL’s Sarnia Sting, tied for fifth in mean power outage on the stationary bike, 10th in peak power outage, sixth in vertical jump at 25.24 inches and second in long jump at 118.5 inches.
Gauthier, a right-winger with the Val-d’Or Foreurs, was seventh in endurance testing, 14th in pro agility turning left, second in vertical jump at 26.69 inches and first in long jump at 120 inches.
Impressive, indeed. But have they peaked?
“Baseball scouts talk about this,” one veteran scout said. “If you take two guys and send them on a sprint to first base and one guy’s got perfect technique and the other guy’s all over the place, I’m going to take the guy that looks terrible because once we teach him how to run properly he’s going to be able to run even faster.
“Sometimes that’s their plateau. There is that concern.”
What makes the scout’s comments more noteworthy is both players have been trending downward since the calendar flipped to 2016.
As the season reached and crossed the halfway point, Chychrun and Gauthier were two of the brightest draft-eligible stars.
Somewhere along the way – at least according to most draft rankings – their stars dimmed.
Coming off off-season shoulder surgery, Chychrun went from being in the top-prospect conversation with Auston Matthews last summer to being ranked No. 2 among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting in January. By the time the final rankings were released, Chychrun was slotted fourth.
Independent rankings like Future Considerations and International Scouting Services also still have him rated as the top defenceman available (sixth and eighth), but the gap is closing with London Knights’ Olli Juoveli and Windsor Spitfires’ Mikhail Sergachev.
“Obviously, you want to be the first D taken, but I did not have the ideal year I wanted,” Chychrun said in Buffalo. “I understand the other two D-men in the conversation had great years. We will see how everything pans out. I’m not going to stress too much about it. I just want to enjoy draft day. Everything that really matters is after that day.”
Chychrun wasn’t pleased with his offensive totals – 11 goals and 49 points in 62 games – or that he was cut from the Canadian world junior team despite being the second-youngest player invited to camp, behind winger Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Still, he feels good going into the draft and beyond.
“My goal has been to play in the NHL at 18. It’s been a goal of mine for a long time,” the 6-foot-2, 214-pound rearguard said. “I feel I’m physically ready. I feel I’m mentally ready. I matured a lot this year and went through some adversity.”
Gauthier, meanwhile, did make the Canadian junior team and was the youngest member. Born in October 1997, Gauthier completed his third season in the QMJHL and scored 41 goals in 54 games.
However, just seven of those goals were netted in the last two months and the Foreurs were upset in the first round of the playoffs.
As a result, Gauthier fell to 12th in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings among North American skaters from fourth in January. He was slotted 16th overall by North American Central Scouting and 21st by both Future Considerations and ISS.
“You can’t control anything so I’m just focusing on my training and getting ready for which team is going to draft me,” said the 6-foot-4, 224-pound forward.
Gauthier comes from a body building family. His grandfather, Denis, is a Mr. Canada winner and his father, Martin, also competed.
Martin has trained him since he was nine.
“I don’t train to be a body builder. I don’t train to look good without a shirt on. I train to be a power forward. I have big, strong legs,” Gauthier said, noting he looks up to New York Ranger Rick Nash.
“It’s pretty tough for big guys to be big and fast. My father told me if you can score goals and be fast, teams are going to be attracted (to) you. We worked on that a lot. I think it went pretty well. Of course, there’s always room for improvement.”
Chychrun and Gauthier both come from hockey families.
Chychrun’s dad, Jeff, played in 262 NHL games with four teams. Gauthier’s uncle, Denis, suited up in 554 NHL games.
There’s no question teams are interested in the latest Chychrun and Gauthier versions. There’s little question both players will be first-rounders either.
Both believe they have the fortitude to play in the NHL next season. Whether they arrive next year or sometime later on, it’s how good they’ll be that remains to be answered.
“It shows the teams how driven I am and how much I want to improve my game to be successful,” Chychrun said of his combine results. “I think they can feel pretty safe investing in a guy like me. I’m not going to take no for an answer.”