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Jakob Chychrun feeling at home with Ottawa Senators; still emotional upon Arizona return

Craig Morgan Avatar
December 19, 2023
Jakob Chychrun will face the Coyotes in Arizona for the first time since they traded him to Ottawa last season.

Andy Scott spoke to Jakob Chychrun days before Chychrun was scheduled to play his first game in Arizona since the Coyotes traded him to the Ottawa Senators last March.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a few tears in his eyes when he takes the ice,” Chychrun’s agent said.

It didn’t take that long. During the Senators’ optional morning skate on Tuesday at Mullett Arena, I spoke to Chychrun just outside the visitors’ dressing room. The last question was this:

With some time to gain perspective, how do you view your time in Arizona?

“Every time I get asked I just get emotional,” Chychrun said, pausing multiple times to compose himself and apologize as tears streamed down his face. “I do miss it. I miss the guys. That’s the thing people don’t realize. It took a lot for me to leave such a comfortable situation. I was drafted here. I was one of the faces of the franchise. I loved living in Scottsdale. It was just a great situation.

“I just felt I wanted something better from my career, and that was a chance to win. You play this game to win, but it was hard and I don’t know if I’m ready for tonight.”

Chychrun doesn’t know what to expect from Coyotes fans when he steps onto the ice for warm-ups. Even though it was the Coyotes who first approached him about a trade and not vice versa, he admits that he is nervous he may be booed after a drawn-out and sometimes bizarre process to complete that trade.

He has been thinking about this moment for a while.

“I was getting emotional just looking out the window of the plane flying in,” he said. “I’m an emotional guy and I spent a lot of time here. I loved my time here. I was able to go back and see my house. It’s just really nice to be back here.”

Jakob Chychrun played 373 games for the Coyotes, recording 60 goals and 170 points. (Getty Images)

The place that Chychrun now calls home is almost an ideal situation. Most players don’t get to choose their landing spot in a trade, but from a comfort standpoint, south Florida where his parents live, or Ottawa where multiple family members lives, and where the family has a nearby cottage in Arnprior, were the best two options.

“I think [Coyotes GM] Bill [Armstrong] did a really nice job of trying to help me out in that aspect,” Chychrun said. “I really appreciate that and it has been great to be home in Ottawa.

“We were able to buy a house at the end of summer that’s really close to my sister’s place. She just got engaged this summer and she’s getting married at the cottage next summer. My house is five minutes from her. It’s 10 minutes from my grandpa and 40 minutes to the cottage so it’s been awesome.”

Family has always been a major piece of Chychrun’s upbringing, whether it’s the tight bond he has always had with his mom, Nancy, or the annual skates with his dad, Jeff, and his grandfather, John.

“The last coaching staff was great with making family welcome everywhere,” Chychrun said. “My grandpa could come in and have breakfast with us, watch practice and just hang out in the lounge. It was really special to just build those memories and then just go play cards with him after practice whenever I want. My sister comes over for dinner with her fiancé a lot, too.”

The holidays will make Chychrun’s new home even more meaningful.

“My dad’s first Christmas he ever missed being home — even when he was playing his whole life — was my first year here in Arizona just because it’s so hard to get there over the holiday for a day and a half,” Chychrun said. “We always did Christmas here so I’m excited to be back in Ottawa for Christmas this year and have our traditions that we always had.

“We always go to my dad’s sister’s [house] for Christmas Eve and then to my grandpa’s house for Christmas day dinner. There will be like 20-25 people on Christmas Eve and then maybe 40 for Christmas day. The pierogis are to die for so I am really looking forward to the food and then just going to midnight mass with my grandpa like I used to do as a kid. We used to all just sit around and they’d play the guitar and sing some Christmas songs.”

On the ice, Chychrun has been healthy and producing at his customary clip. He has nine points in nine December games and he is tied for 14th in points (21) by NHL defensemen. The main disappointment has been the performance of a team that was expected to take a major step forward this season and contend for a playoff spot.

Instead, the Senators have the second-worst points percentage in the Eastern Conference, leading them to fire coach DJ Smith on Monday and replace him on an interim basis with veteran Jacques Martin.

“At the end of the day, that happened because we weren’t playing well enough,” said Chychrun, who experienced two coaching changes in Arizona. “There is accountability. We saw that from management. They made that change for us. It’s our job now to run with the changes they felt they had to make. It’s on us as players to just go out and turn this thing around.”

That starts tonight with a game against his former team, which still features many old friends. On Monday night, Chychrun had dinner with current Coyotes Clayton Keller, Nick Schmaltz and former Coyote Phil Kessel at Ocean 44 in Scottsdale. They shared a lot of laughs and a lot of memories.

There was a time when the Coyotes viewed Chychrun as a foundational piece of their rebuild. Tonight, he will stare across the ice at them as a member of another team’s young core.

“It’s weird,” he said, shaking his head and falling silent for a moment. “It’s just really weird. I’m nervous. It was a place I called home for a long time.”

Top photo of Jakob Chychrun at the NHL Global Series in Stockholm via Getty Images

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