Using the No. 7 overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft that the Chicago Blackhawks acquired as part of the trade package for Alex DeBrincat, the team made a bit of a surprising choice by taking defenseman Kevin Korchinski.
In an ever-changing league jam-packed with speed and skill more than any previous era, though, Korchinski could have the tools needed to help turn this rebuilding team into a competitive force in the future.
Who is Kevin Korchinski?
Korchinski is a left-handed defenseman who checks in at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds and turned 18 years old on June 21. Though he has decent size already, the blue-liner still has plenty of room to grow, physically. Korchinski spent the 2021-22 season playing for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL, where he led the league in points among eligible defensemen, accumulating an eye-popping 65 points (4 G, 61 A) in 67 games.
What does Korchinski bring to the table?
The moniker of “high-risk, high-reward” given to Korchinski by NHL scouts seems appropriate, as the Hawks are taking somewhat of a gamble using a top-ten pick on him. If Korchinski maximizes his current skills, though, he offers some brilliant upside.
First and foremost, Korchinski shines with the puck on his stick. The term “offensive defenseman” gets thrown around like a cornhole bag at a Midwest summer cookout these days, but it’s more than just a defenseman who racks up goals and assists. A defenseman has to be able to both skate and handle the puck at a much higher level than previous eras in order to be effective in today’s NHL. Korchinski has impressed scouts with his ability to lead breakouts and drive transition play.
This video below, from Elite Prospects, is entitled: “Kevin Korchinski is the 2022 NHL Entry Draft’s most electrifying defenseman.”
This clip shows another of Korchinski’s strong suits: breaking the puck out of his own end.
LHD Kevin Korchinski is averaging 5.9 breakouts at even strength per game this season, most on the Seattle Thunderbirds by a wide margin. Below are some recent examples.— Ben Misfeldt (@BBMHockey) March 16, 2022
Notice how quick he is at assessing and making the play without sacrificing poise.
Stats from @InStatHockey pic.twitter.com/Mnns7rKgso
Here’s a Korchinski shift from last week’s prospect camp:
A shift with thirteenth overall pick Kevin Korchinski: pic.twitter.com/5yLRa7D5ns— Bleacher Nation Blackhawks (@BN_Blackhawks) July 15, 2022
Korchinski makes skating look effortless while using his awareness and long reach to avoid forecheckers in the middle of the ice. His play with the puck is quite impressive in its own right, as he has been successful in attacking forecheckers and getting pucks from the boards to the slot. He has a nice set of hands as well, which lends to his abilities as both a scorer and a playmaker. He has drawn comparisons to the likes of Jake Gardiner and John Klingberg.
Another attribute Korchinski’s shown is the ability to quarterback a power play. With his smooth skating, Korchinski can walk the blue line and use his vision to find open or passing shooting lanes. He also does a great job of cycling the puck and keeping the pressure on the opponents while his team has the man-advantage.
Where can improvements be made?
Korchinski has some mechanics that can certainly be improved — such as his skating stride while defending — but that’s why teams have coaches. He has put his skills on display in a way which favors today’s NHL game. The majority of things he does well are things that can’t be taught. Their isn’t any lack of talent here, and if he is developed correctly, he could translate very well to the NHL level. When heading towards the offensive zone, Korchinski is a “heads-up” type of player who thinks one play ahead, with great awareness and anticipation for where his teammates and opponents will be during each sequence.
He just needs to find his footing on the other end of the rink.
While he possesses the tools he needs to become a complete player, the focus of his development should be his play away from the puck. Yes, this is a defenseman that needs to learn to play better defense, and this is where the true gamble of this pick comes into play. Korchinski has struggled at times in his own end. He’s not afraid to be aggressive while playing defense in transition — seemingly a natural part of his offensive instinct — but he needs to work on his patience, positioning and decision-making, because those aggressive instincts do get him into trouble.
The chart provided below shows that his miscues have amplified his turnover ratio. The y-axis is for Transition Turnovers per 60, and Korchisnki has the second-highest rate among this sample of CHL and USHL players, which isn’t a great thing:
Some of those defensive issues were mentioned in this Future Considerations game report from Dec. 31st, 2021, which appeared in this this pre-draft profile from our sibling site, Pension Plan Puppets:
Defensively, there are some concerns. He tends to either defend with his stick or his body, rather than leading with his stick and following up with his body. He needs to work to connect these two. He can tend to play up too high when defending the rush, resulting in players sliding behind him and him having to turn early and chase. This results in a lack of angling out in his defending. His speed and reach bail him out now, but won’t at the next level. He’s not a physical player, resulting on his skill more.
The good news is that all of the places Korchinski needs to improve are coachable. He has the pedigree to be a very good player, as long as the coaching staff is able to correct his bad habits and he is willing to put in the work.
The NHL features much faster gameplay than the WHL and lazy passes, poor defensive positioning and ya-ha fun boys style have no place in the pros. Like the Gustafssons and TVRs before him, if Korchinski neglects his assignments to go out searching for Shangri-La, he will get torched and stapled to the bench. But the Blackhawks have put a lot of emphasis on the fact that this is a chance that they’re willing to take.
What’s the final verdict?
It’ll be several years before the full book is out on Korchinski at the pro level. However, he already checks a handful of boxes:
- Modern offensive style of play
- Has size and can move
- Displays top-end skill in his strengths
- Great name to have while playing for a Chicago Team
Korchinski’s success in the NHL will rely on his development, especially on his defensive side of the game that will require more work. We’ll see if this Blackhawks rolling of the dice on a player with obvious skills but clear areas for improvement will pay off — or if they just rolled a seven with the seventh overall pick.