Late in the second period of the Blue Jackets’ 3-1 win over Calgary on Friday, Jack Roslovic’s line was pinned in the defensive zone for more than 30 seconds while the Flames cycled the puck around.
Then Yegor Chinakhov won a puck battle along the boards and, as he spun around with the puck on his stick, fired a no-look pass out of the defensive zone and across the ice to a streaking Patrik Laine, leading to a two-on – one rush for Laine and Roslovic. Laine missed the net with his shot, but the sequence was emblematic of the step Chinakhov has taken in his second NHL season.
“Chinny quietly goes about his business,” coach Brad Larsen said. “He’s not as flashy, but the thing about him, he’s a very smart player. Positionally, he’s pretty sound. Nobody really talks about that.”
Known as a shot-first player when the Blue Jackets drafted him with the No. 21 overall pick in the 2020 draft, many of Chinakhov’s best plays so far this season have involved the other attributes of his game. His shot is still lethal — he has the fourth-most goals on the team with four in 25 games — but his passing and skating abilities have emerged to make him a more well-rounded winger.
Chinakhov has an assist in each of the Blue Jackets’ last two games while playing with Laine and Roslovic on a new second line that has proven effective, albeit in a small sample size. With eight assists so far, he’s already exceeded his total of seven assists from last season and is just one point away from equaling the 14 points he produced in 62 games as a rookie.
“I’m so glad to see (Chinakhov) in that spot right now because he made that step, obviously,” defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov said. “Now he’s playing a bigger role on the team. He a little bit changed his preparation. Now he knows more about the league, about how he can handle himself. It’s kind of helped him.”
Gavrikov has been on the receiving end of two of Chinakhov’s best passes of the season; his two goals are both overtime game-winners that Chinakhov set up.
“He just can play with the puck,” Gavrikov said. “Either shoot or pass, he can make the decisions. It’s really good for the team. He can create some offense.”
As the two other Russian speakers in the locker room alongside Chinakhov, Gavrikov and goaltender Elvis Merzlikins have a unique perspective on Chinakhov’s growth from his first season to his second.
“He always wants the perfect game,” Merzlikins said. “Sometimes, he’s worrying too much. … He’s learning and we see that on the ice. He’s doing really well on the ice. I feel that you need to give him that trust and confidence. When he feels that, then he gets really good and dangerous.”
Larsen agrees with Merzlikins’ analysis — while also expecting more from Chinakhov as the season goes on. So far, Chinakhov has proven to be avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump, and he has an opportunity with Laine and Roslovic now to further demonstrate the way he’s raised his game this season.
“He’s producing more this year, which is great,” Larsen said. “I think there’s more in his game. It’s a confidence thing. When he’s skating and handling pucks, driving deep, turning up — he’s a real strong kid. That’s what I want to see more consistently. I think there’s that ability there to hold onto pucks a little bit longer.
“With that line, it’s a pretty strong, fast and skilled line. He should complement them well, when he’s going. We’ll see how this works out, but it’s a couple decent games for them.”
Blue Jackets place Joonas Korpisalo on injured reserve, recall Jet Greaves
Goaltender Joonas Korpisalo left Friday’s game after the first period with what Larsen described as discomfort in his lower body. Saturday evening, Korpisalo was placed on injured reserve and is expected to miss one to two weeks with a lower body injury.
Jet Greaves was called up from AHL Cleveland on an emergency recall to back up Elvis Merzlikins. Larsen said Saturday that Merzlikins would start Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings.