Blackhawks’ Philipp Kurashev struggling with consistency, needs April revival

“In every game, he teases you with the upside that he has,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “What we’re hoping to get from him is the pace and the tempo every shift.”

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Philipp Kurashev’s point drought stretched to seven games Saturday in Nashville.

AP Photo/Mark Humphrey

Hours after the Blackhawks acquired Vinnie Hinostroza on Friday, news that Philipp Kurashev had been demoted to the taxi squad briefly ignited confusion on Twitter.

It turned out to be a false alarm — it was simply a paper move. Kurashev was returned to the active roster for the game Saturday against the Predators, and coach Jeremy Colliton insisted Hinostroza’s addition wouldn’t block any prospects like Kurashev from getting steady NHL starts.

But the initial news was believable because Kurashev, 21, has fallen off significantly in recent weeks.

“We haven’t played him as much lately,” Colliton said. “He had an outstanding stretch, and then consistency is part of the equation with a lot of guys in their first season in the league. We’re trying to help him find that [higher] minimum level.”

In his first 31 games this year, the Swiss rookie forward tallied seven goals — including a Goal of the Year candidate Feb. 17 against the Red Wings — and five assists while averaging 12 minutes per game. His creativity, quickness and agility added a dynamic element to the Hawks’ top nine.

But Kurashev has gone without a point in seven consecutive games and hasn’t generated much offense at all.

He has taken only four even-strength shot attempts, getting only two on goal, in the last six games. He has gone five consecutive games without an even-strength scoring chance. There have been occasional moments when his skill has resurfaced — a quick move around a defender, a well-crafted pass — but they’ve been rare and fruitless.

While fellow rookie Brandon Hagel chugs along with maximum-effort outings every day and Pius Suter cashes in on a steady diet of rebounds and retrievals, Kurashev has turned invisible — even though he’s the best of the three when the puck is on his stick and arguably has the highest ceiling.

“In every game, he teases you with the upside that he has,” Colliton said. “What we’re hoping to get from him is the pace and the tempo every shift and just awareness to be on the defensive side [of opposing players] and get through hands to win battles and help move pucks ahead. If he does that, he’s going to be an extremely effective player.”

Kurashev echoed Colliton during an interview last month, saying that keeping his performance steady has been a challenge.

“For me, the biggest thing is consistency,” he said March 25. “We play so many games so it’s hard to always be at your best, but I’m just trying to get better every day as much as possible. The goal for this year is to keep improving.”

Kurashev’s playing time had dipped recently with his declining play. He averaged 10:09 of ice time in a six-game span and played only 8:13 on Thursday against the Hurricanes.

But Colliton gave Kurashev a vote of confidence Saturday, elevating him to the second-line center role in a depth-chart shake-up and giving him 14:33 of ice time. Kurashev is now back at his preferred center position, where he believes his “pretty good vision” allows him to “use my teammates a little bit more.”

Colliton had success earlier this year elevating, rather than demoting, Kurashev when his play dipped. He did it Jan. 31 against the Blue Jackets, and Kurashev, on a line with Patrick Kane, turned in two points in a 3-1 victory.

The Hawks hope the same maneuver will work again for Kurashev.

“I believe in him a lot,” Colliton said. “He can really help us if he can find a step above the current level he’s at.”

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