I raised a few eyebrows when I predicted that Philipp Kurashev would lead the team in goals back in October, when I dropped my bold predictions for this season. With the unknowns surrounding potential trades, and Kurashev coming back on a one-year contract (he’s RFA this summer), this felt like a great opportunity for the young forward to take a step forward.
While his seven goals are behind the team’s co-leaders (Jonathan Toews and Max Domi), Kurashev has been a really nice player this year. And, if you’ve paid attention, head coach Luke Richardson has started to use Kurashev as his “get a line going” guy at times, moving him around to get more out of the other two forwards on the line.
After the Blackhawks’ win against Buffalo, Richardson raved about Kurashev’s game — probably his best in the NHL.
“I haven’t seen him play like that, a consistent full game like that, since early in the year when he was really riding some good confidence out of training camp. He deserves all the points he got tonight. I thought he could’ve had a few more. But you know what? It’s great for players to see. He’s a fun guy, he has a smile on his face, he loves the game, he puts in the work and it was really nice to see him kind of persevere and have a real solid 60-minute effort.”
Kurashev, 23, started the year on the Blackhawks’ third line with Sam Lafferty and Jason Dickinson, and that line was arguably the team’s best in the successful first month of the season. As injuries have pulled other forwards — especially Tyler Johnson — out of the lineup, opportunities have opened for Kurashev to skate with veterans in the top-six.
And he’s taken advantage.
But his teammates have benefitted from skating with Kurashev, too.
According to Natural Stat Trick, Kurashev leads the team with six primary assists this season — one more than Toews, Domi and Patrick Kane. His 31 high-danger chances are second behind only Andreas Athanasiou (41). And he’s tied for the team lead with Seth Jones with 11 created rebounds.
Kurashev has been hard to play against, and it shows. He’s drawn ten penalties this season, which is tied for second on the team (Colin Blackwell has drawn 11). The best evidence of that was the ten-minute misconduct Rasmus Dahlin took early in the third period, a penalty that Richardson speculated may have come from frustration because of Kurashev’s play.
Recently, Kurashev has spent a lot of time on a line with Toews and Taylor Raddysh. And many nights, that line has been arguably the best the Blackhawks have put on the ice. After the win against Buffalo, Kurashev told Scott Powers at The Athletic that he’s happy to see the offense coming.
“It definitely gives you a good feeling, for sure,” Kurashev said. “To help the team win with that (offensive) part of the game is fun, and hopefully we can keep it going.”
Originally a fourth-round pick by the Blackhawks (No. 120 overall) in 2018, Kurashev has already out-performed his draft status. Only two players selected after the first round in 2018 have appeared in more regular season games than Kurashev’s 164 games: the Islanders’ Alexander Romanov (drafted No. 38 by Montreal — 180 games) and New Jersey’s Yegor Sharangovich (No. 141 — 175 games).
As is the case with any young player, feeling the confidence of the coaching staff can make a tremendous impact on performance (cough, Ian Mitchell, cough Isaak Phillips, cough). Kurashev has earned his opportunity and might become one of the first building blocks of the rebuild.