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Philipp Kurashev has come a long way in finally cementing his spot on the Chicago Blackhawks roster. Physically, he made the 4,407-mile journey from his hometown of Münsingen, Switzerland, to Chicago. His game has also made major strides, and the results are speaking volumes on a nightly basis.
The Blackhawks drafted Kurashev in the fourth round (120th overall) of the 2018 NHL Entry Draft. Following a successful junior career with the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL, he made his NHL debut in 2020. His first two seasons in Chicago showed glimpses of the player he could be, but he was yet to put it all together. Part of that was because the team had not quite figured out how to play him.
Former interim head coach Derek King told us on the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast last season that trying to play Kurashev in a checking role did not have the results he hoped for.
“I didn’t feel he was playing the game the right way when he didn’t have the puck, so I put him on the third and fourth line,” admitted King. “Make him work. Put him with (Sam) Lafferty, Reese Johnson, or (Mackenzie) Entwistle. That’s their job. It’s going to force him to play that way.
“It backfired a little bit. We weren’t getting much from him. The only thing it did help with was that it helped him realize that you think you’re working, but you’re not. I think Kurashev has really learned from that.”
A season that saw him up and down the lineup and even demoted to the Rockford IceHogs for a brief period ended with Kurashev excelling in some limited top-six minutes. However, this season was going to be a make-or-break effort for the 23-year-old forward. He was going to need to prove he was part of this rebuild, and so far, it looks like he will be a valuable player for years to come. After 14 goals and 37 points in his first 121 NHL games, he has two goals and four points in six games to start the season.
Kurashev told me that he worked a lot on his speed and explosiveness over the summer, and that was obvious on his second goal of the season against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday night.
Head coach Luke Richardson put Kurashev on the same line with Sam Lafferty and newcomer Jason Dickinson. They immediately gelled and have been Richardson’s most dependable defensive line. They have started the last few contests and have consistently gone out against the opposition’s top line. But this line is far from a one-trick pony, as they have also been dangerous with the puck.
“We play with a lot of speed,” Kurashev said of the trio after Thursday’s morning skate. “We really work hard. Even when we make mistakes, we try to recover as fast as possible and just keep skating. We use our feet to our advantage. So far, it’s been working, and hopefully, we can keep going like this.”
The game has slowed down for Kurashev in his third NHL season. He is calmer with the puck and can take an extra moment to get himself out of trouble or wait for a lane to open. Also, having a clearly defined role has worked wonders for him.
“It’s a different feeling than last year with being up and down in the lineup,” he revealed. “You don’t know what your role is with the team. Every game, you’re in a different spot. It’s good so far. I’ve been consistent with this position and the situations I play.”
It was evident very early in the season that Kurashev was a favorite of Richardson. He took full advantage of having a clean slate with a new head coach and quickly earned the trust from behind the bench.
“He’s been great from the first day of training camp in any role, top line or third line, checking role,” Richardson said of Kurashev. “They’re creating offense in a checking role because they’re out there against top lines of the other team that sometimes lean more to the offense, and if you can steal a puck, you can make them pay.
“So, he’s been on the power play, penalty kill; he’s a reliable player, smart, his skating ability and skill, it was something that I think can be used in any part of our game plan. I didn’t know too much about him other than, at times, I think they said he might lack a little bit of confidence. Players tend to be hard on themselves. I think coming in, a fresh start with us showing him some confidence in him has grown confidence in himself.”
Gaining the confidence of your coach is huge for any player, regardless of if you’re a rookie or a 15-year veteran. This is something that is not lost on Kursashev.
“That’s huge,” he said. “It’s something you want as a player. You want the coach to trust you on the ice. It doesn’t matter if it’s at the start of the game or the end. They are trusting me. I want to keep going so they trust me more and more, and I play more minutes.”
With Tyler Johnson going on IR this morning, many felt that Kurashev should get a bump into the top six. While this may still happen this season, the third line has played so well during the four-game winning streak Richardson couldn’t break them up. The Edmonton Oilers are in town tonight with a ton of offensive star power, so the trio stays together.
“They are big guys who can skate,” Richardson said of his third line. “We’ve been putting them against top lines. Tonight is more of a team game. With Edmonton and their speed down the middle, we are going to try to play that all night.”
Jujhar Khaira will move up and take Tyler Johnson’s spot on the second line with Jonathan Toews and Taylor Raddysh. Reese Johnson, a healthy scratch for the last five games, will draw back in the lineup. Richardson is optimistic that Tyler’s ankle sprain is not too severe and won’t keep him out for long.
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