Published Saturday, July 24, 2021 | 10:23 a.m.
Updated Saturday, July 24, 2021 | 5:19 p.m.
Dressed in a Golden Knights hat and jersey, Daniil Chayka explained he isn’t a newcomer to the Vegas organization.
A native of Moscow, Chayka came to North America for junior hockey four years ago as a 14-year-old, where he settled in the Toronto area and latched with Guelph of the Ontario Hockey League. When he arrived, the family who helped him adjust bought a jersey of the expansion Golden Knights as a welcoming gift.
So he was thrilled when the Golden Knights made him their second-round pick at 38th overall in the NHL Draft on Saturday. Vegas made five more picks Saturday, but none were already fans of the team.
“It was my first year and it was the first Vegas season in the NHL, so it’s kind of a cool story right now. He got me a Vegas jersey and now they picked me,” Chayka said. “I watched the playoffs this year and saw the atmosphere at T-Mobile Arena and it’s something I’ll say any hockey player would dream of to play in that rink, especially in the playoffs.
“I can’t wait to see that city, to meet those fans. It’s a great organization, a great place for development and to play hockey.”
Chayka’s hockey story was similar to many top prospects from the Ontario Hockey League. The pandemic shuttered the season, leaving draft-eligible players to either sit out the season or find employment in Europe.
Chayka returned home to Russia and worked out a contract with CSKA Moskva for the season. It was a challenging season, and he played in 26 games across three leagues in Moscow. He also played internationally for Russia, including at the World Juniors.
He’ll return to Guelph next season, where the Storm will hold his rights for two more seasons unless he makes the NHL as a teenager.
“I was really sad about that news that the OHL couldn’t play that season,” Chayka said. “I can’t wait to get back there.”
Chayka is a gifted offensive defenseman, who in 2019-20 with Guelph put up 11 goals and 34 points in 56 Ontario Hockey League games. He struggled last season in Russia with just seven points in 26 games, but considering the circumstances of the season it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from that.
He describes himself as a two-way player whose best asset is his hockey sense. He loves to jump into plays, but said skating is the area he has the most room for improvement. He’ll likely play two more seasons in Guelph before the Golden Knights decide he’s ready for the NHL or to send him to AHL Henderson.
It’s the fourth time in five years the Golden Knights have used their first pick after the first round on a defenseman. They took Nicolas Hague in the 2017 second round, Kaedan Korczak in the 2019 second round, Lukas Cormier in the 2020 third round (no second-round pick) and Chayka this year. In all those instances, they used their first pick on a forward.
Vegas traded down to pick Chayka on Saturday, from No. 36 to No. 38, and picked up an addition fourth-round pick.
The Golden Knights rounded out their draft class with four more Europeans, and each of their six picks were born in a different country. There was Zach Dean (Canada) in the first round yesterday, then Chayka, followed by center Jakub Brabenec (Czech Republic) in the fourth, center Jakub Demek (Slovakia) in the fifth, defenseman Artur Cholach (Ukraine) in the sixth and goalie Carl Lindbom (Sweden) in the seventh.
Several of the players will compete in North America next season. Dean will return to Gatineau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, the same league in which Brabanec will join 2020 draftee Cormier in Charlottetown. Demek will head to Edmonton in the Western Hockey League and Cholach’s rights are owned by OHL Barrie.
“We feel real comfortable in their development path,” Vegas assistant director of player personnel Bob Lowes said. “We just really like what they bring for their skillset and their potential. For us, it doesn’t matter where they’re from, we just want to get the best players to help us win.”