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Coyotes’ Jakob Chychrun will stay beyond 9-game trial period

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Most outsiders have assumed that Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun would remain with the team beyond the nine-game window permitted in the CHL-NHL agreement, before the first year of his entry-level deal is engaged.

His play has been so impressive for an 18-year-old NHL defenseman that both general manager John Chayka and coach Dave Tippett seem perplexed why people keep asking.

“He played 23 minutes last night,” Tippett said of Chychrun’s performance against San Jose on Tuesday. “Do you think we’re just going to say ‘hey, go away now?'”

Perhaps the only one who thought that was still a possibility was Chychrun. That’s why he stopped dead in his tracks on Wednesday when he learned that both Chayka and Tippett had confirmed he would be sticking around.

“Did they say that?” he asked, eyes widening. “I didn’t know that. That’s great. You caught me off guard. Holy smokes. That’s really special. That was the goal I’ve had for myself for a while now. Geez, that’s a dream come true for me, really.”

Chychrun will play his ninth NHL game on Thursday against the Nashville Predators at Gila River Arena, and presumably his threshold-crossing 10th game on Friday in Anaheim. At that point, the Coyotes will officially be paying Chychrun the first year of an entry-level deal worth $925,000. Should he cross the 40-game barrier of the NHL season, he will also move one season closer to free agency.

When apprised of this, Chayka almost rolled his eyes.

“Same answer after Game 3, Game 5, Game 6…” Chayka said, smiling. “We’re putting the best lineup on the ice to win games and right now, Jakob’s a big part of that. We had enough depth in the back end that had he not performed and forced his way on he would be back in juniors playing there. He didn’t give us a choice. Credit to him for doing that.

“The economics of it I can deal with. Those are good problems to have.”

While much of the early-season attention was focused on young forwards Dylan Strome, Lawson Crouse and Christian Dvorak pushing their way into the lineup, Chychrun has been the real revelation through eight games. The Coyotes thought he would make an impact soon when they traded the 20th and 53rd picks in the 2016 NHL Draft, along with forward Joe Vitale, to Detroit for the 16th pick (Chychrun) and Pavel Datsyuk’s cap hit, but they weren’t sure it would be this soon.

With Michael Stone still on the shelf with an upper-body injury, Chychrun has been playing on the team’s second pairing with Connor Murphy. Against the Sharks, he logged 23:39 of ice time with two shots, two hits, a blocked shot and an even plus-minus rating.

“I really love playing against top lines,” said Chychrun, who has a goal and three points in eight games. “We were up against the second line of San Jose for a lot of last night. It was awesome. I look at it as a great opportunity for me to build more confidence, knowing I can help shut them down. The more minutes I play, the more I am able to get in a groove, settle in and get a feel for a game.”

Make no mistake, Coyotes assistant coach Jim Playfair said, there are plenty of areas in Chychrun’s game for which he needs a better feel. Playfair outlined several.

“He’s a real good skater, but the details of defending are more what I am focusing on,” Playfair said. “That’s what’s going to give him a chance to play for a long time is having a real solid base of defending details, and I think his offense is going to come from a real solid foundation of defense.

“When the rush is coming at him, I want him to gather as much information as he can and be aware of as many things as he can, who’s around him and how dangerous those players are and then sort it out with knowledge as opposed to coming back, being puck focused and then just reacting to a secondary play.”

Playfair also wants Chychrun to move the puck faster.

“I just want him to recognize that when he’s carrying the puck he can help his teammates keep the pace of play by moving it quick,” Playfair said. “He doesn’t have to overwork with the puck and that helps keep the pace of our offense going.”

Chychrun will take time to master those nuances, and there is always the chance that he could hit the so-called rookie wall, flounder a bit, and end up back in juniors later this season. For now, Tippett said, he has earned a place in the lineup and played well.

“I’ve worked so hard on my physical fitness and my skating for so many years and I think it has served me well to smooth that transition to the NHL,” Chychrun said. “I feel with my size and strength and skating ability at this age, it has helped me not feel like I am out of place.

“I am confident here and that’s a product of things I have been working on for years.”

Predators at Coyotes

When: 7 p.m., Thursday
Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale
TV: FOX Sports Arizona
Radio: Arizona Sports 98.7 FM
Records: Coyotes 3-6. Predators 3-5-1.

Injury report: Coyotes — G Mike Smith (left leg) is week to week. D, Michael Stone (upper body) is day to day but will not play. C Martin Hanzal (lower body) is having more tests and is questionable. LW Tobias Rieder (left leg) is probable. Predators — C Mike Fisher (upper body) is day-to-day and could play. F Miikka Salomaki (upper body) and D Anthony Bitetto (upper body) are out.

Scouting the Preds: Nashville snapped a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) with a 5-1 win at Colorado on Tuesday. … F Filip Forsberg leads the team with seven assists and seven points. F Viktor Arvidsson has a team-high four goals. … Nashville made a big splash this summer when it traded D Shea Weber to Montreal for D P.K. Subban (two goals, five points). … G Pekka Rinne has had an uneven start and is tied for 22nd in the NHL in save percentage at .914 with a 2.88 goals against average (31st).

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