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In signing Jakob Chychrun, Coyotes do more than lock up a defenseman

Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun (6) celebrates with his team after scoring a goal against the Vegas Golden Knights during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

On its own, there’s a clear benefit in the six-year contract extension the Coyotes gave to Jakob Chychrun on Tuesday: The team has secured a young defenseman who was on an expiring entry-level contract.

But taking it a few steps further, the Coyotes also made yet another step in solidifying their core group, created cost certainty for several years and took a small risk.

General manager John Chayka has awarded several contract extensions in 2018. He extended goalie Antti Raanta for three years back in April, defensemen Niklas Hjalmarsson and Oliver Ekman-Larsson in July, center Christian Dvorak for six years in August and then Chychrun on Tuesday.

Not only do these actions give the team assurance that it will have some of its most important players around for years to come, but the contract extensions allow Chayka to have foreknowledge of certain costs as he tries to assemble the rest of the roster on an going basis.

“That’s sort of the key,” he said. “As you build out a team, you’re trying to build it out with a vision. We’re getting some players in place now that we think are going to continue to develop and evolve and be elite players in the NHL. Now we can go about building out our roster. I think the easiest thing to do in this situation is to wait and play it out and see what happens, and then if a lot of these guys come along as we hope and expect, then ultimately the way the league’s structured, you have to start making some trade-offs.

“We want to try to avoid that scenario, especially with our key, core players moving forward in our mind. So trying to be proactive and trying to get ahead of that curve and if we can do that, accurately forecast, and hopefully we get some luck along the way, we can keep this group together for the long term.”

According to CapFriendly, only four players currently on the Coyotes’ roster are now on entry-level contracts that expire after this season: forwards Lawson Crouse and Brendan Perlini, defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin and goaltender Hunter Miska. Clayton Keller, Dylan Strome and Christian Fischer will need new pacts after next season, but getting Chychrun done checks one player off the list.

But why him?

Chychrun has played in 119 games in his career as the 16th overall draft pick in 2016 has been limited in his young NHL career so far because of injuries. There’s risk involved in signing any player for six years, but even more so with a player who has dealt with injuries that limit his sample size of data.

“Jakob’s got a long history of being an elite player for his age group. We know of his injury history,” Chayka said. “That was a consideration and something that we took very seriously in looking into and understanding better. But ultimately we felt like the price was right and it allows us a lot of flexibility and the potential to really get a great value deal moving forward.”

As Chayka noted, the team could be rewarded for making a small gamble. If Chychrun outperforms his reported $4.6 million AAV over the life of his contract, Chayka will have gotten a great value. And from Chychrun’s perspective, he secures six years of income and avoids becoming a restricted free agent this offseason, for what that’s worth.

Chayka has also spoken highly of not just Chychrun the player, but the human being that the Coyotes have just signed long-term.

“Being around as I have, getting the chance to draft him, I’ve spent some time with him,” Chayka said. “If we didn’t have a strong belief in the person, we wouldn’t do this deal. That’s a big part of these long-term extensions and that’s what we’re excited about.”

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