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Daniil Chayka: 2021 NHL Draft Prospect Profile; A Large, Mobile Defenseman from Russia

Daniil Chayka is a large defenseman that knows how to use his reach and lateral mobility to shut down the opposition. He’s the top ranked Russian defenseman in this year’s draft and could be a first round selection.

2018 Under-17 Four Nations Tournament - Slovakia vs Russia
Daniil Chayka is the top Russian defenseman available in the 2021 Draft. Could he be a first round pick?
Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

A trio of Russian players, Fyodor Svechkov, Nikita Chibrikov, and Daniil Chayka are potential 1st round selections in the 2021 NHL Draft. Unlike Svechkov and Chibrikov, Chayka is a defenseman. Not only that but he’s also experienced with playing junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey League and professional hockey in the Kontinental Hockey League. The experience of playing across these leagues means whichever team drafts Chayka will be getting a player that has tested himself against high level competition in very different environments. Chayka is regarded as a prospect with a lot of raw talent that has a lot of development to go. In today’s profile series, we will take a closer look at the young Russian defender to see where he’s at in his development and what his future could hold. Let’s get to know more about Chayka now.

Who is Daniil Chayka?

According to his Elite Prospects profile, Daniil Chayka is a 6’3”, 185 lbs. left-handed shooting defenseman from Moscow, Russia. He was born on October 22, 2002 thus making him one of the older players in this draft class. He played his youth hockey with Spartak Moscow but has split his development time between the CSKA Moscow system and the junior hockey circuit in Ontario, Canada. Thanks to Elite Prospects, we can see how his career has unfolded so far.

In 2016-17, his age 14 season, he played for the CSKA Moscow U16 team where he had a goal in 10 regular season games. In the finals series he had a goal in 6 games as they won the championship. It’s worth noting that he was the youngest player on the team that season.

In 2017-18, his age 15 season, he made the move to North America to play for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens U16 AAA team. In 45 U16 AAA games he had 15 goals and 18 assists for 33 points. In 31 GTHL U16 games he had 10 goals and 9 assists for 19 points. That season he helped the team win the OHL Cup with 4 goals, 2 assists, +7, and 12 PIM in 7 games. Proving himself against against future OHL players led to him being selected 7th overall in the 2018 OHL Priority Selection draft by the Guelph Storm.

In 2018-19, his age 16 season, he became a regular for the Guelph Storm. As we can see from his OHL player page, he appeared in 56 games and put up 5 goals, 9 assists, 14 points, +21, 2 PIM, 7.81 SH%, and 1.14 SH/GP. Thanks to Pick224, we know Chayka was one of two defenders to play regularly in their Draft-2 year that season in the OHL. He had a 65.22 EV Goals For% and an estimated ice time of 14.78 per game. He earned a spot on the OHL Second All-Rookie Team. He played in 20 playoff games as the team went on to win the OHL Championship. He played in 4 Memorial Cup games with no penalty minutes and an even rating for the Storm. That season he also played regularly for Russia’s U17 team. In the World U-17 Hockey Challenge, Chayka had a goal and an assist in 6 games as Russian won the Gold Medal.

In 2019-20, his pre-draft season, Chayka returned to the Guelph Storm. In a more prominent role, he played in 56 games with 11 goals, 23 assists, 34 points, +9, 18 PIM, 9.65 SH%, and 2.04 SH/GP. According to Pick 224, Chayka had a 52.99 Goals For% and estimated ice time 22.29 per game. Chayka’s 1.06 primary points per estimated 60 minutes of time on ice rate was the best of all the defensemen in the OHL that were in his draft year. Brandt Clarke was second with a 0.99 primary points per estimated 60 minutes of time on ice rate. He also played more international hockey for Russia’s U18 team that year. He helped them to a Gold Medal at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup by playing in 5 games with 2 assists, +7, and 2 PIM while serving as an alternate captain. In the U19 World Junior A Challenge he played in 6 games with a goal and an assist. He was named to the WJAC-19 All-Star Team.

Chayka spent the 2020-21 season, his draft year, on loan to CSKA Moscow where he competed in the KHL, VHL (2nd tier), and MHL (juniors). According to his KHL player page, he appeared in 11 games with a goal, assist, 2 points, -2, 0 PIM, 11.1 SH%, 0.8 SH/GP, and averaged 10:37. Considering that CSKA Moscow was the best team in the Western Conference and that young players, especially defensemen, don’t play much in the KHL, this experience made Chayka stand out a bit. Only 13 U19 defensemen played in the KHL last year and that number shrinks to 5 if you take out the ones that played just a game or two. Out of these defensemen, Chayka trailed only Devils’ prospect Shakir Mukhamadullin in points per game rate with a 0.18 mark compared to Mukhamadullin’s 0.26.

According to his VHL page, Chayka spent 10 regular season games with Zvezda Moscow where he had an assist, -1, 0 PIM, 8 shots, and averaged 8:53. In 3 playoff games he had no points, a -1, 0 PIM, and 9 shots while averaging 23:15. With the KHL team making a deep run to the Gagarin Cup Finals, it’s not too surprising tha the VHL team was depleted and Chayka had to step up in the limited playoff run they had. Playing that much in a tough environment against men should prove to have been a good experience for him. According to his MHL page, Chayka played briefly against fellow junior aged players. In 5 regular season games for Krasnaya Armiya Moscow, he had a goal, 3 assists, 4 points, +4, 2 PIM, 9 shots, and averaged 16:34. In 6 playoff games he had an assist, even rating, 2 PIM, 17 shots, and averaged 20:56.

InStat Hockey tracks a lot of data for scouts and teams to help take a closer look at each player’s game. Here is some of the data they shared publicly for Chayka from his time across the KHL, VHL, and MHL. I should note that their data has him with two more assists than the Elite Prospects stats. That’s probably down to some scoring changes at some point. It also gives you an idea of where he tends to play in the offensive zone and what zones he prefers to shoot from:

Going forward it remains to be seen whether he will return to the OHL with Guelph for his age 19 season or if he will stay in Russia. He’ll certainly have options to discuss with whichever NHL team drafts him. Now let’s see where various outlets have Chayka ranked.

Where is Daniil Chayka Ranked?

Below are the rankings for Chayka from a number of different public outlets. Most outlets see him a late 1st round prospect though some see him as a raw enough prospect that perhaps he should be selected in the 2nd round.

Here is an explanation of why Byron Bader of Hockey Prospecting ranked Chayka where he did:

Chayka has a very similar profile to Edvinsson. Similar age (although a bit older), similar size and equivalency. Chayka also comes with a first rounder expectation, although not as high as Edvinsson (consensus suggests late, late 20s). More than half of the dmen that profile just like this never make the NHL. There’s a lot of risk to picks like this. However, Chayka did show pretty well in the OHL last year. He didn’t show quite as well in Russia this year once the OHL got shut down but he bounced around a lot in Russia (as you do) and didn’t play in any league for more than 11 games. Chayka possibly could have put something more substantial together with another season in the OHL.

What Others Say About Daniil Chayka

The first scouting report comes from Ben Kerr of Last Word on Sports where he breaks down Chayka’s game by skating, offensive game, defensive game, and then offers a projection and comparison. Here are a few things that stood out to me:

Regarding his skating:

His first few steps are decent but can be quicker. He can also improve his acceleration. Once he reaches top speed, he is able to move quickly around the ice. His pivots are also good, allowing Chayka to transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. Chayka’s edgework is also very good and his turns and crossovers are effective. He has very good side-to-side mobility.

Prior to this I have read that Chayka is a mobile defender with smooth skating so I was a bit surprised to see that it’s an area of his game that still could use some work. Kerr notes that his side to side movement is very good which is a positive attribute so it seems like Chayka needs to focus on improving his north-south skating.

Regarding his offensive game:

His slap shot and one-timer are excellent. They are powerful and he has a knack for getting them on the net...His wrist shot is also powerful. He gets it off quickly, with an excellent release...His wrist shot is very accurate. He also has a very good snapshot.

Chayka’s passing game is decent. However, he is much more of a trigger man than a quarterback on the powerplay. He keeps the puck moving and can find an open man. However, he is not the type to make creative cross-ice passes through tight lanes.

I like reading that he has a variety of shots in his arsenal and is able to get pucks on net. It seems his passing is nothing special though. Apparently he’s a fine facilitator when it comes to puck movement but he’s not going to do anything special to create offensive opportunities. Also, it seems like his passing on breakouts leaves a bit to be desired.

Regarding his defensive game:

Chayka does an excellent job of keeping plays to the outside and taking away the middle of the ice. His strong lateral movement helps him to maintain gap control and forces attackers to the outside. Once his man is on the perimeter, he does a good job of taking away passing lanes and forcing them into a shot from a tough angle.

I’m encouraged to read that Chayka has a good, fundamental defensive game and is able to limit opportunities for opposing attackers.

Regarding his projection and comparison:

Chayka has all the tools to be a top-pairing defender in the NHL, but his game needs some refinement.

His game is reminiscent of Alec Martinez. This is a stylistic comparison only though and not one based on skill.

The next report we have comes from Josh Tessler of Smaht Scouting. Here are a few excerpts.

Regarding his reach:

His reach allows him to take up more space, which gives him more room when possessing the puck. When Chayka does not have the puck and is playing in his own zone, his reach allows him to stand tall and intercept passes that are not coming to his immediate vicinity.

I am encouraged to read that the 6’3” defenseman understands how to utilize his reach to his advantage.

Regarding his defensive game:

His defensive strategy is to play a more relaxed game until the puck crosses the perimeter. At that point, Chayka plays a bit tighter along the half-wall to eliminate lanes for the attacker to shift towards center ice. But, if the attacker is entering the zone on a quick rush and swings the puck around Chayka towards the boards, he tights up a lot earlier on...Aside from his lack of physical play, I have enjoyed Chayka’s response to loose pucks and puck movement in general. Chayka is quick on his feet.

This seems to back up Kerr’s scouting report that Chayka plays a simple but effective defensive game when attackers try to gain the zone or make plays in the zone. I am encouraged to read that he wins battles for loose pucks thanks to his quick feet.

Regarding his transitional play:

Unfortunately, sometimes Chayka is too quick with his breakout passing and does not complete an accurate assessment of the situation at hand. So, he will complete passes to the opposition or fail to get the puck to his teammate.

Once again it’s noted that Chayka really struggles with breakout passes, too often having them intercepted or icings. This will certainly be something he needs to improve since he isn’t a defenseman that can break the puck out with his skating.

Regarding his offensive game and differences between playing Russia vs. the OHL:

When playing in Russia, his offensive play is more laid back...With the wider ice surface, I had wondered if he would struggle with his shot when moving back to Russia. It seems that he doesn’t have the ability to target a higher spot on the wider ice in Russia...In addition, Chayka was more inclined in Canada to jump into the slot and find open ice or look for a rebound to pick up and that is something that seems to be missing in his play in Russia.

Should he return to the OHL next season or eventually make his way over to professional hockey in North America, it will be interesting to see how his offensive game translates back to the smaller ice. It seems like he’s more suited to the smaller ice and struggles with the open ice in Russia.

Regarding his skating:

When on the blue-line, he has great length on his crossovers, which allow Chayka to move faster laterally than most because he doesn’t have to take as many crossovers to get him moving.

Once again we read about Chayka’s side-to-side mobility and it seems to be a real asset to his game. For a bigger defenseman, he seems to skate well enough to play at the professional level.

Regarding his comparison:

Like Shea Weber, both defensemen are roughly the same size and both possess excellent reach.

Finally, we have this Preliminary Media/Scout Poll for the 2021 NHL Draft by Brock Otten of OHL Prospects from late January. He polled 19 scouts and media members, including himself, to rank the players that would’ve been in the OHL. Chayka came in 5th with 17 total votes. Two of the people polled had Chayka as high as 2nd while two people didn’t have Chayka listed in the top 10. Here are what some of the people had to say about Chayka:

“A stout defender and quietly effective transition player, Chayka may not show up on the scoresheet all that often but he does an excellent job of thwarting zone entries and moving the puck out quickly. His skating is good but not great, as he will need to work on his pivots and agility a bit. He has shown the ability to be a capable defender against men in both the KHL and VHL in Russia this season. He may not be a future PP QB but he has the potential to be a solid minutes eater who can be defensively conscious at even-strength and play on the PK.” - Tony Ferrari

“A guy you probably won’t notice a ton unless you despise point shots. Well over 100 pass attempts/60 at 5v5 and completing over 80% across multiple levels of pro hockey in Russia is very notable, with a 72% rate of maintaining control of offensive transitions and a 24% rate of allowing control on defensive ones is a recipe for success. He takes care of the puck and is at his best when things are kept simple. Probably not a player that will excite large swaths of fans, but a player that should be able to chip in at 5v5 and be an effective part of an NHL unit.” - Will Scouch

It seems that Chayka has what it takes to be an effective NHL defenseman someday but he’ll be more of a 2nd or even 3rd pairing type of player that can help the PK than a top pairing type of player that can play on both special teams units. There’s nothing wrong with that but it seems like he may not be a 1st round level prospect.

A Little Video

The first video we have is a highlights package that comes from Wolf Hockey on YouTube:

The next video we have is a shift by shift video from Devils in the Details Podcast on YouTube. This action is from a February 15, 2021 VHL game which will give you an idea of how he played against men:

An Opinion of Sorts

I think Chayka is a fine prospect that has a realistic chance of becoming a servicable NHL defenseman for a long time. He has a large frame and knows how to use it with his long reach. He skates well and it’s a real plus when it comes to his lateral mobility. Defensively he plays a simple game and does well to keep opposition forwards wide when entering the zone if he doesn’t break up the entry with his stick. Where I do have some questions is how much of an offensive and transition game does he have? At the junior level his shot selection seems to be effective but I’m not sure how well it will project to the NHL level. His passing game is fine in the offensive zone but isn’t the most creative and he’s much more of a facilitator than playmaker. When it comes to the transition game, he doesn’t break pucks out his zone with his skating too often and has struggled to execute breakout passes. He’ll really need to improve that if he wants to play regularly at the NHL level. When it comes to Chayka, I feel he’s most likely to reach the NHL as a 2nd/3rd pairing defenseman that can contribute on the PK if he reaches his potential. That’s not to say he can’t outperform that, it’s just that he is really a raw, toolsy player right now that needs a lot more development to go right for him to become a two-way player that can contribute on both special teams units. I personally don’t see him as a 1st round prospect and think he’s more suited for the 2nd round. With that said, I won’t be surprised to see a team take a chance on him in the opening round.

While I would prefer the Devils to avoid him with their late 1st round pick, I could see him being on their radar. They’ve selected 3 Russian defensemen over the past 2 drafts in Shakir Mukhamadullin (1/20, 2020), Nikita Okhotiuk (2/61, 2019), and Daniil Misyul (3/70, 2019). It is a position of need for the organization and I could see them looking at his experience in the OHL as well as the KHL/VHL/MHL as a positive. We’ll have to see how draft day unfolds.

Your Take

What are your thoughts on Daniil Chayka? Do you think he is a 1st round talent? Do you expect him to be drafted in the opening round? Do you think he should be on the Devils radar? Leave your comments below and thank you for reading!