A large, imposing defenceman who can skate. Does that sound familiar? Last year, the Montreal Canadiens picked sturdiness over flash when they selected Kaiden Guhle 16th overall. And if it wasn’t for that selection, it is easy to imagine that Daniil Chayka would be right up Marc Bergevin’s alley.
Birthplace: Moscow, Russia
Date of Birth: October 22, 2002
Weight: 185 lbs.
Current Team: Guelph Storm (OHL)
In 2018, Chayka made himself available for the OHL Priority Selection, where he was picked up with the seventh selection by the Guelph Storm. By then, he had already spent a year in Canada, playing U16 AAA for the beautifully named Toronto Jr. Canadiens. During two seasons with Guelph, the CSKA Moscow-bred Chayka flourished, making a name for himself in his second season with 34 points from the blue line. He was also named an assistant captain when his motherland competed in the distinguished Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
Apart from his size and mobility, Chayka would provide a team with smooth zone exits and, as is often the case with towering defencemen, a powerful slapshot. The shot could still use some development when it comes to accuracy with some analysts asking whether Chayka’s long stick prevents him from properly controlling the release of his shots.
Elite Prospects: #77
NHL Central Scouting: #5 (EU Skaters)
Corey Pronman (The Athletic) #25
TSN/Bob McKenzie: #26
Scott Wheeler (The Athletic): #49
Last year, I took the job of writing about a Russian defenceman with varying status among the draft analysts. Ultimately, Shakir Mukhamadullin ended up being picked in the middle of the first round. While it may have been slightly earlier than expected, it was nothing that rendered more than a shrug for most hockey fans.
Elite Prospects, on the other hand, thought differently. They had listed Mukhamadullin as one of only a handful of players they would advise teams to stay clear of entirely. Their verdict was that he had clear difficulties playing a sound defensive game, something which is troubling when you are projected as a stay-at-home defenceman.
This year, I sought out to find more positive vibes when reading up on Chayka, but my expectations were wrong. Yes, most outlets have him firmly established as a first-rounder, with one even suggesting a future in which he could have first pairing upside. But a less-than-stellar year in his native Russia seems to have chafed his draft stock. A poor outing in the 2021 World Junior Championship, where he was a healthy scratch for one of the games, contributed to a considerably more lukewarm assessment than I was anticipating.
My conclusion is that although some analysts really didn’t believe in Mukhamadullin’s NHL potential, others – like the Devils – fell in love with his raw potential and saw the possibility of ironing out his question marks and turning them into exclamation points. In comparison, I don’t know if there is anything to truly iron out in Chayka’s game, something that could turn him from a fringe first-round caliber prospect to a truly elite talent.
Analysts say he is an imposing defenceman with above-average mobility for his size. He may never develop any clear offensive traits but could help provide you with some shutdown ability playing both 5-on-5 and on the penalty kill. Well-rounded but more of a role-player than a minute-eater.
Then I checked out the Elite Prospects draft guide where Chayka is ranked considerably lower than any other outlet. Their description is of a player who didn’t evolve after being loaned out to Russia by the Storm. Playing in the VHL and the MHL was surely not what young Chayka had in mind when returning, but in a constrained draft year, it was even more important than usual to use the little playing time you received to your advantage.
He did pick up his game slightly when changing scenery to the KHL, but playing shielded minutes for a KHL juggernaut is different compared to anchoring a team in the second tier.
In the VHL and MHL, Chayka was supposed to dominate to further cement his status as a first-rounder, but that did not happen. He had times when he looked uninspired and careless in his defensive efforts, which is worrisome when shutdown defence should be your calling card and you have demonstrated limited offensive creativity.
Still, he has shown enough combination of smartness, size and skating ability when he was playing for the Storm that he won’t fall very far down the draft board. There is nothing sexy about a selection of Daniil Chayka, but we just saw Montreal make it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals with a defensive core consisting mostly of players similar to the Russian.
With the left side of Montreal’s defensive prospect cupboard already filled to the brim with Alexander Romanov, Mattias Norlinder, Jordan Harris, Jayden Struble, Gianni Fairbrother, and the aforementioned Guhle, I fully expect Chayka to end up wearing a different team’s jersey by the time the weekend is over.