Philipp Kurashev’s strong start to his first NHL season had stagnated in recent weeks.
But instead of demoting him, Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton gave him a promotion, providing the 21-year-old forward with his first opportunity at his natural center position — on the first line, too, with Patrick Kane by his side.
The vote of confidence paid off Sunday as Kurashev had two points, including a goal off a nice Kane feed, then an assist with a nice pass to Kane, as the Hawks beat the Blue Jackets 3-1 at the United Center.
“[Kurashev’s] play had probably dropped off a little bit, but then the last game, he showed a little life again,” Colliton said. “Sometimes when you see that, you want to see if you can use that spark.
“He makes a lot of plays. Tonight, his patience and confidence with the puck really helped that line, and they had a few more chances.”
That line of Kurashev, Kane and Mattias Janmark, who has also been quietly effective on Kane’s opposite wing, produced seven of the Hawks’ 14 even-strength scoring chances and carried a 16-11 advantage in shots.
Kurashev said it was “great news” when he learned of his new line assignment, not only because it’ll allow him to play with Kane — “One of the best players ever,” Kurashev said — but also because it put him back at center.
He had been manning the wing next to Dylan Strome.
“I kinda already got used to wing, but now back to center, so it felt great,” he said. “I feel really comfortable there. Hopefully I can keep going.”
The line-shuffling seemed to jump-start Kane, who finished with a goal, an assist and six shots after struggling the last few games with Pius Suter as his center.
And Suter, in turn, was jump-started by his move to wing on Strome’s and later Carl Soderberg’s line. He scored the eventual game-winning goal.
“It’s going to be up and down with guys, and we’re going to help them through it,” Colliton said. “We have a bunch of competition. We’ve got a bunch of young players who are pushing for ice [time], and that’s a great thing.”
The Hawks’ roster took another hit, with rookie defenseman Lucas Carlsson injuring his leg blocking a shot in the opening minutes.
Carlsson returned for some shifts later in the first and second periods, eventually playing 7:39, but didn’t appear in the third period, leaving the Hawks down to five defensemen.
“I’m not sure what the prognosis is here, if it’s a day-to-day thing or longer or what the outlook is,” Colliton said. “Just the fact that he came back and gritted through some minutes, that’s a big part of why we won.”
Lankinen wins again
Kevin Lankinen’s amazing run to start his NHL career continued as he made 32 saves on 33 shots and was again named the first star.
His .937 save percentage is tied for sixth in the league. But he’s unfazed by the hard-to-believe immediate success and gaudy numbers.
“Every single game, every single period I’m out there, I just feel more relaxed,” Lankinen said. “I’m gaining more and more confidence.
‘‘I don’t really like to judge my game by the numbers that much because sometimes what happens is that the numbers don’t tell the whole truth.”