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Examining the rookie season — and the potential — of Philipp Kurashev

How did this young forward perform offensively during his first NHL season?

Carolina Hurricanes v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Despite rising rapidly in the prospect ranks after an excellent QMJHL season, not many had Philipp Kurashev penciled into a spot on the Blackhawks roster this season. While the Blackhawks had explicitly stated they were focusing on the development and evaluation of their young players prior to the season start, Kurashev was still considered quite green, since his only season in the AHL was riddled with injuries and cut short due to COVID. The Blackhawks had plenty of other young players that were expected to get chances first — players like Pius Suter, Brandon Hagel, and Matthew Highmore — and several veterans were brought in to fill out the roster with experienced players — such as Mattias Janmark, Carl Soderberg, Lucas Wallmark, and even Brandon Pirri.

Kurashev was expected to start the season in Rockford skating top-line minutes while gaining more professional experience, hopefully earning a call-up later in the season. However, those expectations were thrown out the window pretty quickly after Kurashev was one of the most noticeable players at training camp in all the right ways. Suddenly, there were rumblings that Kurashev was playing himself into a role with the Blackhawks — that with no pre-season like usual, people wanted to see him in game-action against NHL players before he was sent down. Sure enough, Kurashev entered the lineup in game two and pretty much never left.

By starting the season at the NHL level, Kurashev had already exceeded some expectations, but was he able to make the most of the situation? Considering the team-wide issues the Blackhawks had defensively, the focus here will be exploring his contributions and underlying trends related to offense.

Kurashev 2020-21

Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per game Points per 60 EVO xEVO EVD xEVD GAR xGAR Off. Zone Start % PDO
Games Played TOI per Game Played Points per game Points per 60 EVO xEVO EVD xEVD GAR xGAR Off. Zone Start % PDO
54 13:04 0.3 1.36 0.1 1 -0.9 0.1 -0.9 0.8 59.24% 99.8

Offensively, Kurashev had a solid but not extraordinary season. His 0.3 points-per-game was ninth among forwards that played at least 20 games and right in line with general third-line production (16 to 30 in all situations and 15 to 26 at 5-on-5). At 5-on-5, he was also top 6 among Blackhawks forwards in individual expected goals per 60 (0.52), mostly due to his shots being predominantly high-danger (2.63 per 60) and often second-chance opportunities (0.68 per 60).

Overall, 56.1 percent of Kurashev’s shots on goal at 5-on-5 were scoring chances, second only to Pius Suter. What held Kurashev back, despite his strong quality of chances, was that he didn’t shoot enough: he was third to last in shot attempts per 60 (8.36) and shots on goal per 60 (5.06) with only David Kampf and Carl Soderberg being worse.

Other non-shot categories where Kurashev showed promise were in passing and in transition, although quantity was again an issue. Kurashev was sixth among Blackhawks forwards in carry-in percentage (52.2), although he attempted the second least on the team and was below league average in attempts per 60 (17.89). He was also the best forward at zone exits with possession (68 percent) but also attempted exits at a rate slightly below league average (8.54 per 60). In terms of passing, Kurashev was fifth best in high-danger pass success — meaning his pass led to a shot on goal from a high-danger location — with 55 percent but again he was low in terms of quantity with only 0.82 per 60 (for reference, Dylan Strome lead the team and had over double per 60) and his total shot assists per 60 (7.75) was once again below league average.

Since Kurashev has the quality part down, it’s possible that with an increase in volume of shots, passes, and transition plays, Kurashev could produce an amount of points in line with a second-line forward.

Obviously there’s no guarantee that Kurashev can actually increase the quantity of those types of quality plays, but his performance alongside higher quality linemates gives hints that it’s possible. Let’s break it down by comparing Kurashev with his two most common linemates: Dominik Kubalik and the aforementioned Soderberg.

Kurashev With Linemate Comp

With TOI Shots per 60 xGF per 60 Shot Assists per 60 HD Passes per 60 GF/60 GF% OZ%
With TOI Shots per 60 xGF per 60 Shot Assists per 60 HD Passes per 60 GF/60 GF% OZ%
Kubalik 213:16 7.13 2.47 9.16 1.21 2.25 66.67 57.52
Soderberg 176:13 4.22 1.81 4.44 0.49 1.92 42.86 48.86

It’s pretty clear that Kurashev got more offensively out of being on a line with Kubalik than Soderberg. Now, that may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s not actually a given that all players can play up to the quality of their linemates. The fact that Kurashev did and that he saw a similar — though not as exaggerated — positive trend when paired with any top-six quality player hints that part of it is due to Kurashev’s own skills and compete level. On the other hand, it’s hard to fault Kurashev for having issues with volume when the linemate he spent 40 percent of his ice time with (Soderberg) was near the bottom in every offense generating category.

So, while some of Kurashev’s issue with volume of quality offensive plays is due to him being a young player adapting to the NHL speed, it’s also probable that his lack of consistent quality linemates played a bigger role.

Ultimately, Kurashev came into the season with little expectation to even make the team but he made the most of it despite the variable nature of his usage and deployment throughout the season. He had a solid rookie season in a predominantly third-line role where his underlying trends could lead to higher line success given the right linemates and situation. The mantra of “Play Kurashev more” doesn’t look like it’s going away anytime soon (barring a trade, of course).

We’ll end this on an interesting chart that came up when looking into Kurashev’s development path so far: one of Kurashev’s closest comparables is former Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp.

This isn’t a declaration that Kurashev will ever be as good as Sharp. It just shows that, from the year prior to being drafted (D-1) to three seasons after (D+3), the tracks are similar. But Sharp didn’t make the NHL until he was 22-23 and didn’t produce at over a 0.5 point-per-game pace until he was 25-26, so this should should highlight why patience is needed for Kurashev (and all prospects really).