Sitting at 28th overall on TWC’s Consolidated NHL draft rankings, Daniil Chayka could be an option for the Calgary Flames if they decide to trade down in the first round, or end up acquiring a late first-round pick. Chayka was ranked fifth among European skaters by NHL central scouting, and ranks as high as 13th on two prospect rankings, although he projects most often as a late first-round pick.
Who is Daniil Chayka?
Chayka was born on October 22, 2002, making him one of the older players in the 2021 draft, missing the cut off for the 2020 draft by just over a month. Chayka hails from Moskva, Russia, however he has spent most of his junior hockey career playing in North America after coming over in 2017.
Chayka is a left shot defenceman and stands at a tall but lanky 6’3″, 185 pounds.
Daniil Chayka’s on-ice production
Let’s take a look at Chayka’s production over the last three seasons, in both North America and Russia.
Despite being born and raised in Russia, Chayka actually came over to North America as a 15-year-old to play for the Toronto Jr. Canadiens in the GTHL. Following two years in the GTHL, Chayka was selected 7th overall in the OHL priority selection draft by the Guelph Storm in 2018.
In his rookie season in the OHL, Chayka played a minor role on a stacked Guelph Storm team. He posted a modest 14 points in 56 games, however at just 16 years old, Chayka was the youngest player on a mostly veteran Storm team. He also suited up for 20 of the team’s 24 playoff games as the Storm would go on to win the OHL championship. However, Chayka didn’t register a single point in the playoffs.
In his second year in the league, Chayka would take on a much larger role with the Storm. He went from playing primarily as the team’s number six or seven defenceman in 2018–19, to playing on the team’s top pairing in 2019–20. This led to a break out production-wise to the tune of 34 points in 56 games, which was good for first on the Storm among defenceman.
This most recent season, Chayka went back to Russia on loan as the OHL season was cancelled due to the pandemic. He would suit up in the KHL, the VHL, and the MHL, all within his hometown organization CSKA Mosvka. Read up on TWC’s guide to international hockey leagues to see how the three Russian leagues relate. He put up four points in five games in the MHL, one point in 10 games in the VHL, and two points in 11 games in the KHL.
Chayka has also represented Russia on multiple occasions throughout his career so far. He played three games, registering no points for the U16 Russia team in 2017–18. He then played six games for Russia at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in 2018, putting up two points. He also played another five games for the Russia U17 team that season, putting up three points. In 2019 he played 12 games for the Russia U18 team, registering four points. Finally, this past season he represented Russia at the World Juniors along with Flames prospect Yan Kuznetsov, playing in six games and getting no points.
Daniil Chayka’s strengths
The biggest strength in Chayka’s game is certainly his defensive ability. Chayka is a very reliable and smooth defender, and is very responsible in all three zones. He uses his height and long reach to keep plays to the outside against even the most gifted offensive players.
He also possesses decent skating that makes him a mobile defender for his size. He has strong pivots and edgework for a larger defenceman, which allow him to get around the ice and keep up with opposing players. His skating also ensures that he maintains very strong gap control, which makes him very hard to beat one on one.
He can regularly pick off passes that would be out of reach for most players due to his reach, making him tough to play against at times if you’re the opposing team. Here’s a good example of Chayka reading a play, and jumping in to intercept a pass.
Chayka does a very good job at taking away passing lanes in the middle of the ice and forcing opposing players to make plays from the perimeter. He is also rarely out of position, and even if he does get caught, his reach and mobility ensure that he can get back in position and shut down a potential scoring chance.
Another aspect of Chayka’s game that doesn’t get enough credit perhaps is his strong shot. He possesses a great slapshot and one timer, making him a potential trigger option on a second power play at the next level. He isn’t afraid to use his shot when given the opportunity and space in the offensive zone. His first goal in the KHL was a perfect example of this.
Daniil Chayka’s areas of improvement
For Chayka, the biggest area of improvement going forward would be his overall strength. At 6’3″ but just 185 pounds, Chayka has a lot of room to grow and add some size to his frame. This will come with age as he continues to mature, and he should have no problem in the future dealing with bigger and stronger opponents once he gets to the professional level.
Although he possesses strong mobility when skating, his north–south speed isn’t the greatest as he doesn’t have a quick stride. This can limit his ability in the transition game at times, as he typically lets his teammates or defensive partner carry the puck up the ice.
He will also need to work on his overall decision making in the offensive zone if he wants to have more of an impact offensively in the future. He doesn’t possess elite offensive skills, so he will have to rely on his decision making and IQ at that end of the ice if he wants to be used as more than just a stay at home defender.
Fit with the Flames
In all honesty, Chayka isn’t a great fit for the Flames given their current organizational depth chart and needs. We broke down the teams depth chart at each position back in May, and the Flames are currently stacked on the left side on defence.
In the NHL they currently have Mark Giordano, Noah Hanifin, and Juuso Valimaki on the left side. Of course, this may change post-expansion draft, but they also have both Oliver Kylington, and Connor Mackey as depth on the left side at the NHL level. In terms of prospects at the position, the team has Colton Poolman, Yan Kuznetsov, Ilya Solovyov, and Jeremie Poirier on the left side.
Secondly, the team has much bigger holes to fill on forward than defence, and they really should be using their first-round pick this year on a forward to bolster their forward depth chart. Even if they were to pick a defenceman in the first round this year, it should most likely be one that plays the right side as the team has just Johannes Kinnvall and Jake Boltmann on the right side in their prospect pool.
Now there is a good chance the team loses one of Giordano or Kylington in the expansion draft, so picking up a prospect like Chayka wouldn’t be a terrible move as he’d jump right up to their top prospect at LD. However given his handedness and the side he plays, there will most likely be better options out there come draft night.
Chayka is an intriguing prospect. He has some great tools in his game, however he doesn’t excel at any one aspect at either end. He also comes with some moderate risk, along with a rather low ceiling. He is certainly one of the more risky options available in the first round, as he is far from a sure thing at this point.
As a player who isn’t elite in any aspect, Chayka has a low floor as well. He has the defensive tools to be a dependable defenceman at the next level, however he still hasn’t been able to put his skills together to become a threat offensively, which could limit his role and impact in the NHL. If he can’t put all of the aspects of his game together, he could end up becoming more of a fringe depth option in the NHL.
If he can figure out the offensive side of the puck, while adding some size and physicality to his defensive game, he could end up being a solid number four or five defenceman in the NHL.
Chayka is definitely more of a long-term project right now. He will need to add some considerable size and strength before he can take the step to the professional level, and is most likely still at least three years away from competing for a spot on an NHL roster.
Projection: Second/third pairing two-way defenceman
Previously: William Eklund, Dylan Guenther, Cole Sillinger, Jesper Wallstedt, Kent Johnson, Simon Robertsson, Fabian Lysell, Aatu Räty, Carson Lambos, Simon Edvinsson, Chaz Lucius, Mason McTavish, Brennan Othmann, Corson Ceulemans, Francesco Pinelli, Oskar Olausson, Xavier Bourgault, Zachary L’Heureux, Matthew Coronato, Zachary Bolduc, Logan Stankoven, Sebastian Cossa, Nikita Chibrikov, Fyodor Svechkov
Featured image created with Venngage.