Brandon Hagel, Philipp Kurashev likely next forwards in line for Blackhawks call-ups
The two AHL rookies have improved steadily with the IceHogs this season.
Wing Brandon Hagel arrived in the American Hockey League last spring after finishing a ridiculous 102-points-in-66-games season in the Western Hockey League, a Canadian junior league.
IceHogs coach Derek King quickly informed him it wouldn’t be quite so easy anymore.
‘‘We always joke about ‘getting the junior out of him,’ and you can still see he’s got that little bit of junior mentality,’’ King said last week. ‘‘But if he continues the course he’s taking, there’s no reason why he can’t play in the NHL.’’
After scoring only one point in eight games for the IceHogs to end his 2018-19 season and going another eight games without a goal to start the 2019-20 season, Hagel finally broke through Nov. 3. He has been on fire ever since.
Hagel, 21, has a team-leading 13 goals and eight assists in 36 games.
‘‘If I just stick to my game and the way I play, my offense is going to come,’’ Hagel said. ‘‘I never expected it to be easy here. My work ethic’s got to come first.’’
Hagel and center Philipp Kurashev, who has been out with an injury since Dec. 29 but had been productive before that, have established themselves as the most promising Blackhawks forward prospects among the IceHogs’ ranks.
For Kurashev, who scored 65 points in 59 games last season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League but needed 12 games to score his first goal in the AHL, the transition has been equally challenging.
‘‘Going from juniors to the pros is obviously a big difference,’’ Kurashev, 20, said. ‘‘You’re playing against men, so you have to be way stronger and smarter, so that’s the biggest thing. . . . [I’ve] just tried to make way faster decisions.’’
King said he can relate.
‘‘I played juniors, and you’re always the better guy out on the ice,’’ he said. ‘‘But now you’re here with all the better junior guys playing in the AHL, so you’ve got to watch your game, you’ve got to manage the puck, you’ve got to have better habits.’’
The IceHogs’ cast of forwards has been gutted by the Hawks’ numerous recent injuries. Dylan Sikura, Matthew Highmore, John Quenneville and Anton Wedin all have spent time in Chicago.
At the top of the depth chart, that has meant more opportunity and ice time for prospects such as Hagel (second among IceHogs forwards in points) and Kurashev (fourth). Tyler Sikura and Jacob Nilsson are first and third, respectively, but the former is on an AHL-only contract and the latter is 26.
The Hawks sent down Quenneville on Saturday and are carrying only 12 healthy forwards — with wing Brandon Saad and center Dylan Strome still out — on their three-game road trip that begins Tuesday in Ottawa. So the demand exists for a new call-up soon, and Hagel is considered a leading candidate.
Hagel said he has benefitted most from in-depth video work with King and the rest of the IceHogs’ staff. Never before able to watch all his shifts on film — even by himself — he now is noticing many more ‘‘small details’’ that he ‘‘can fix up quickly and easily.’’
While awaiting his first stint with the Hawks, however, he’s maintaining his tenacious work ethic.
‘‘If I want to get to the next level and play for a really long time, I need to improve my entire game, and I think that’ll come with time,’’ he said.