Since earlier this summer, many of us have been openly wondering what the Blackhawks will do with their top defensive prospect, Kevin Korchinski.
When training camp opened, the assumption by many was that the Blackhawks would get a look at Korchinski and then send him back to junior. The team’s top pick (No. 7 overall) in the 2022 NHL Draft had a marvelous season with Seattle in the WHL last year and played well for Canada at the World Juniors.
However, he has the offensive skillset and instincts to be an impact player in the NHL now — if used appropriately — but the concern was burning a year of his contract when he isn’t quite ready yet for the defensive end of the ice.
And then the preseason happened. And now there are some very legitimate questions that the coaches and front office need to answer regarding Korchinski’s immediate future.
The offense? Yeah, it was there. And it was pretty impressive at times how confidently he was able to lead the rush and move the puck.
Starting the season in the NHL makes a lot of sense, but is it worth keeping Korchinski for more than nine games and burning the first year of his contract?
I believe there is another question that needs to be answered in order to answer that question.
The areas where Korchinski needs to develop still defensively are adjusting to the size and speed of the NHL game. He needs to get used to making plays under duress and having time and space disappear on him quicker, even with his elite speed affording him the ability to escape more often than not.
So that primary question in my mind is: will Korchinski become better suited for the size and speed of the National Hockey League game with another year in the NHL? Or would he benefit more from a season working with Chicago’s coaches and development staff — even if it means he doesn’t necessarily play every night?
As I wrote earlier in the preseason, there are going to be mistakes from young Blackhawks players this season — including Korchinski.
I’m not advocating for the Blackhawks to handle Korchinski the way Seattle did Shane Wright last year, scratching him seemingly every night and then sending him on token rehab assignments in the AHL allowed by the CBA because of the number of consecutive games sat. But playing Korchinski in advantageous matchups/situations and allowing him to watch and learn from the press box every once in a while may serve to benefit the young defenseman long term.
The Blackhawks’ power play is better with Korchinski on the point. With all due respect to Seth Jones, Korchinski’s speed being an option to enter the zone is a difference maker. And allowing him to begin working with Connor Bedard and Lukas Reichel sets up the team’s long-term special teams especially well.
If Korchinski goes back to Seattle, he would likely dominate the WHL even more and would be able to play a bigger role for Canada at this winter’s World Juniors. Of course, the Blackhawks could also allow him to play in the WJC and keep him on the NHL roster before and after the tournament, too. That brings up concerns based on Kirby Dach getting hurt at the WJC, which have validity but we also need to keep in mind that injuries can happen everywhere.
We’ll find out soon what the Blackhawks’ plan is for Korchinski this season. He said near the end of camp that he didn’t know what the long-term plan was for him this season, so he’ll learn his future as well. But the Blackhawks have seen enough to know he can be an impactful NHL player offensively, and the benefit of him learning the game with NHL coaches working with him has a lot of value to his career beginning strong.