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When the Chicago Blackhawks made the draft day trade that sent Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for just three draft picks, the reaction around the league, and especially in Chicago, was that the Blackhawks and fresh-faced GM Kyle Davidson had lost the trade.
With that 2022 seventh overall pick acquired in the deal, Davidson and the Blackhawks selected defenseman Kevin Korchinski. As he now prepares for his first preseason game with Chicago, it is the 18-year-old Saskatoon-native who can change that narrative.
In his first prospect camp, just days after being selected as the first pick by Kyle Davidson in his tenure as Blackhawks GM, Korchinski was instantly one of the best young defensemen the team had in their farm system. A system populated with Alex Vlasic, Isaak Phillips, Alec Regula, Ian Mitchell, etc., Korchinski was already making an impression as one of the best in the fold. It wasn’t until the Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase earlier this month that Korchinski’s real skill-set could be put on full display. The speed he plays with, his ability to be calm at both ends of the ice, and the way he sees the ice was evident as the Blackhawks played two games against the Minnesota Wild prospect group. It was through both camps that a young defenseman like Korchinski could hit the ground running when it came time for the opening of training camp.
While being the seventh pick in a draft could lead to some over-confidence in a young player, Korchinski is taking things one step at a time in his young Blackhawks career. Ahead of his first NHL preseason game, he’s relying on what has gotten him to this point and using the game as an experience. “Hockey just comes to me. It’s what I love to do.” Korchinksi said sitting at his locker stall, situated right next to Seth Jones’ stall. “I’ve put in the work, now it’s just going out there and getting to play.”
Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson made it a point as Blackhawks training camp and the preseason began to pair young defensemen with veteran counterparts. Since the opening of camp last week, Korchinski has been matched with Connor Murphy, while Alex Vlasic and Seth Jones have been a pair and Caleb Jones and Ethan Del Mastro have also been grouped together. In his final skate before making his first appearance with the Blackhawks against competition in the NHL, even if just the preseason, Korchinski is taking the advice of keeping his confidence high going into his first game. “It’s something really special. I’m pumped. It’s gonna be a great moment.”
There will be plenty of time for Korchinski to develop his game and become a full-time NHL player. The likely short-term future for him is with the Seattle Thunderbirds in the WHL. Last season, Seattle reached the WHL Final before falling to the Edmonton Oil Kings and Korchinski was one of the biggest reasons the Thunderbirds went that deep into the postseason. He recorded six goals and 19 points during Seattle’s playoff run following a 65-point regular season campaign as a 17-year-old. Heading into the 2022-23 season, expectations are high for the young defenseman as The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler picked Seattle to again reach the WHL Final and for Korchinski to be in the running for the league’s Best Defenseman award.
Already an offensive play-driver, Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson has tried to work on Korchinski being more confident in his shot during training camp and into his first preseason game. “He moves really well. Quick, fluid skater. We’d like to see him shoot the puck a little more and not look to pass first. That will open up things for him later.” Korchinski will have ample opportunity to make an offensive impression with the Blackhawks in his first preseason game, being placed at the top of the second powerplay unit, “quarterbacking” a forwards group of Samuel Savoie, Tyler Johnson, Michal Teply, and Jonathan Toews.
There’s a lot of runway with the Blackhawks’ farm system and the timeline for development with most-to-all of their young players. Another young defenseman looking to solidify his spot on the NHL roster is Alex Vlasic. But while he is focusing on his own game, the 2019 second-round pick can’t help but notice Korchinski’s skill level and personality already. “He’s unbelievable. You can tell he has a bright future ahead of him.” Vlasic has been working with Seth Jones so far in camp, being mentored like Korchinski by one of the veteran defensemen to prepare them for their near, and hopefully long, NHL futures.
There is ample opportunity for these young players to fast-track their careers with the Blackhawks being in a transitional state with their roster, but the line between confidence and cockiness is being toed well by Korchinksi according to Vlasic, “He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever met…Sometimes you get first-round picks, or top-ten, and they can be cocky, overconfident, but Kev’s just a down to earth guy and you can tell just by talking to him.”
This isn’t to call Korchinski the next coming of Duncan Keith or Brent Seabrook or a hybrid of the two. This is to say that when looking at the ceilings of some of the young Blackhawks in their prospect system, Korchinski could be the one with the highest. His game has been compared loosely to those two Blackhawks legends, but also to a Norris Trophy winner like Roman Josi. If Korchinski reaches those comparisons, reaches the level that his ceiling is at in this point in his young career, and proves the Blackhawks right for selecting him as the first draft pick of the rebuilding process, there is a high likelihood that No. 55 sweaters will soon be as abundant around Chicago as No. 2 and No. 7 sweaters.
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