2022 Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25: Philipp Kurashev stays at 4

After a sophomore season that didn’t see a massive step, bigger things may be coming from Kurashev.

Second City Hockey’s 2022-23 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2022. The rankings are determined by a composite score from all four SCH writers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. All four ballots will be released after the series is completed.

Philipp Kurashev was expected to take a large step forward in 2021-22. It’s fair to say that large step didn’t happen. Still, a step forward did occur, despite the obstacles Kurashev faced last season.

It didn’t seem like either of the Chicago Blackhawks head coaches from last season — and perhaps neither of them should have been an NHL head coach — had much use for Kurashev. Phil averaged just 12:51 in 2021-22, somehow less than the 13:05 he averaged in the season prior. That’s in spite of Kurashev increasing his production from 1.4 points per 60 to 1.5, achieved due to a large spike in primary assists (going from 0.3 to 0.8 per 60).

That increase in production also came while Kurashev saw significant drop in shooting percentage, from 12.3 percent in his rookie season to 7.0 last season. That wasn’t for lack of trying, as Kurashev’s shots per 60 increased from 5.5 to 6.0. Kurashev was just a victim of playing situation and circumstance.

Perhaps under a different head coach — one who actually wants to play the kids and understands that mistakes are going to be a part of the season, so it’s better to get them out of the way now — Kurashev can take that giant step forward. Maybe in a season where there are fewer forwards that have to be played up higher in the lineup than Kurashev means he can get the minutes he was missing in 2021-22.

Kurashev played just three games in the AHL season, largely because he immediately proved he was too good to stay there too long. With three points in those three games, Kurashev was one of the better forwards for Rockford in that brief stint. Kurashev, who’ll turn 23 on the day of the season opener (Oct. 12), is now also at an age where the AHL really shouldn’t be an option for someone of his caliber.

Kurashev also factored in to the vast majority of goals scored while he was on the ice, with a 71.43 IPP, higher than even Alex DeBrincat or Dylan Strome last season. In a season when Kurashev could play with Lukas Reichel — with whom Kurashev excelled during their brief AHL time together — maybe the combo can be unleashed on lesser lines, allowing both Kurashev and Reichel to develop in tandem.

Kurashev is responsible in terms of penalties (taking just five at 5-on-5 last season while drawing 15), in terms of puck control (20 takeaways to just 11 giveaways) and in terms of generating pressure on the forecheck, because Kurashev’s individual expected goals share (ixG) was 6.5, topping the 6.35 from Brandon Hagel, who was widely regarded as one of the Blackhawks top forecheckers last season.

Kurashev has also shown, when he’s actually given the time and ability to play consistently, that he has some game-breaking speed and skill to offer. His goal against Detroit from last season when he entered the zone, froze all of the defenders and scored rather easily remains stuck in my head. Not many have the ability to do that.

Look: in the last few seasons, the Blackhawks have not had many analytical darlings. Players have either been obviously good — see Kane, Patrick (at least offensively) — or they have been obviously not good. Kurashev is one of the closest things the Blackhawks have to a player whose numbers are better than their playing situation.

He needs to be unleashed. Numbers under Jeremy Colliton and Derek King (who hates the kids) should be taken with a grain of salt. If Kurashev can take that step forward under a coach more willing to play him in a better situation and not scratch him for the sake of ... Reese Johnson(!?), then he’ll likely still be able to make an impact on the Blackhawks’ roster moving forward.

What’s next?

Kurashev will return to the Blackhawks lineup, hopefully in a more full-time, prominent role in 2022-23. He’s one of the few players on this list who can actually say they’re expecting to play the full season in Chicago. If he can increase his production as well as his average time on ice, that’d be great — the Blackhawks will still need to play NHL hockey, which does involve some scoring. This season may be an advanced course in torture but a few slick goals here and there would be nice.