CHEKHOVICH BUILDING OFF SMALL AHL SAMPLE SIZE IN QMJHLDec 14, 2018
By Nick Nollenberger (@NickNollen)
A season ago, the Barracuda seemed destined for a long summer. On the morning of April 4, San Jose sat at eighth place in the AHL’s Pacific Division and trailed the San Diego Gulls by 10 points. What would come over the next two weeks was nothing less than a minor miracle. The Barracuda reeled off six consecutive wins and the Gulls fell in six of their final seven contests, propelling San Jose into the playoffs for the third straight year despite garnering less than a 1% chance to do so when the month began.
So, what changed over the final two weeks that helped San Jose flip its season around? The answer is quite simple, two teenagers! Following the conclusion of their junior seasons, the San Jose Sharks assigned forwards Sasha Chmelevski and Ivan Chekhovich to the Barracuda to gain valuable pro experience before going into summer break. The plan was for them to play a handful of pro games before the AHL season ended. But Chmelevski and Chekhovich gave San Jose a jolt no one expected. Chekhovich collected points in each of San Jose’s final six games (three goals, six assists) including a three-point effort (one goal, two assists) against Stockton on April 6. The two would combine for 13 points over the six-game stretch (six goals, eight assists).
Not eligible to play in the AHL this season due to his age, Chekhovich followed up his eye-popping pro debut last spring with a stellar NHL training camp, which included a preseason game with the Sharks in which he netted a pair of goals and added an assist against the Anaheim Ducks.
As planned, the 19-year-old was returned to his junior club, Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, following training camp. After collecting 59 and 60 points in each of his first two years in the QMJHL, through 32 games this season, Chekhovich is third in the “Q” in scoring (54) and first in goals (29). Chekhovich became the CHL’s first two-time recipient of the Canadian Hockey League’s Player of the Week award ending December 9 after scoring six goals and three assists for nine points in three games. Chekhovich has five hat-tricks already through the first three months of the season including two four-goal games in November.
Chekhovich, who will compete for Team Russia at the 2018 World Junior Championships in Vancouver from December 9 to January 5, is one of three CHL players named to Russia’s Selection Camp roster for the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship.
“The confidence Ivan gained at the end of the season competing against pros, learning that pace, has made a huge impact on his game,” said Baie-Comeau Head Coach Martyn Bernard. “Ivan has a great hockey sense, but he’s improved in all the little areas, including the time he's away from the puck.”
The Sharks selected Chekhovich in the seventh round (#212 overall) in the 2017 NHL, late for a player of his caliber.
In his first year in QMJHL in 2016-17, also his draft year, Chekhovich knew minimal English and struggled to communicate with coaches and teammates off the ice. A reason he may have had trouble adapting to the North American game as quickly as he hoped for.
“Ivan has always had high-end skill and he’s proved that both on an international stage and back in Russia, but he’d be the first to admit that he should have had a better Quebec League season his draft year,” said Doug Wilson Jr., Sharks Director of Scouting. “Guys can take dropping in the draft two ways, either make excuses or make gains. Ivan's made gains. He's worked on his skating, he took what Mike Ricci and Niklas Sundstrom taught him in development camp and he's applied it to his game.”
“Hockey language is universal, but it was hard my first year living in an area of Canada that is mostly French-speaking,” said Chekhovich. “I’m much more comfortable with the league, the area, and the language.”
Chekhovich who is nearly fluent in English now has been paired on a line with fellow Russian Yaroslav Alexeyev this season, which has allowed for nearly instant chemistry on Baie-Comeau’s top line. The two have been friends since they were six years old.
“Ivan was the only Russian here before, and now he’s got his best friend on the team which I think has helped him a lot too,” said Bernard. “When he first arrived he knew no English and it made communicating difficult at times but now that he’s picked up the language and it's helped the communication process dramatically. He’s not a vocal leader but he leads by his enthusiasm, his work ethic and his compete.”
#CHL Player of the Week is @SanJoseSharks prospect @Chekhovich_Ivan of @DrakkardeBaieCo with 9PTS in 3GP to become the first two-time award recipient of the season: https://t.co/Kh9YBalGwg pic.twitter.com/WrFywj34G7— CanadianHockeyLeague (@CHLHockey) December 11, 2018
“Having that experience in San Jose was huge for my confidence. You think you can be a pro and compete with pros but until you do you it, you just don’t know,” said Chekhovich. “Coming back here (Baie-Comeau) I had more confidence and I wanted to continue improving. We have a great team here and it's been a lot of fun to be a part off. We want to keep getting better and fulfill our ultimate dream of winning a Memorial Cup.”
The development process of a hockey player is predicated on checking off boxes and proving each step of the way your ability and worth. Although it's early, the teen is checking one box off at a time.
“There’s a huge difference between juniors and the AHL so you’re always intrigued to see how players handle it,” said Wilson Jr. “It’s a very small sample size, but he’s handled himself really well so far. Ivan is a great kid and he’s got a bright future as a San Jose Shark.