After summer together, Timo Meier sees ‘bright future ahead’ for Blackhawks’ Philipp Kurashev
Kurashev became close friends with — and learned how to get to the net from — Meier during a spontaneous offseason of training with the Sharks star in Switzerland.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — The Blackhawks’ Philipp Kurashev and the Sharks’ Timo Meier were chatting after a Team Switzerland practice during the world championships in May in Finland when they realized something.
Their summer homes in Switzerland were 10 minutes away from each other.
“I was a little surprised when I found out he’s in the same area where I grew up,” Meier said. “It was kind of funny. I told him: ‘Why didn’t you tell me earlier? We could’ve trained together.’”
That’s exactly what ended up happening. The 23-year-old Hawks winger and 26-year-old Sharks winger trained together throughout the offseason in Herisau, a village of about 16,000 residents in the northeast corner of the country.
“We spent almost every day together, just going for lunch and hanging out,” Kurashev said. “We really enjoyed the summer.”
For Meier, the summer was mostly about maintaining the level he reached last season, when he set career highs with 35 goals and 76 points and led the Sharks handily in both categories.
Meier is an established star at this point, and another productive season — even on a Sharks team expected to struggle — could set him up for a sizable raise on his current $6 million salary-cap hit as a restricted free agent next summer.
For Kurashev, however, the idea in the offseason was to prepare himself for a breakout season in 2022-23.
His 37 points in 121 games in his first two NHL seasons don’t jump off the page, but he has shown some intriguing flashes of higher-end upside. His elusiveness, puckhandling ability and vision as a playmaker set him apart from the Hawks’ horde of grinders.
Kurashev is primed to receive plenty of opportunities to take that next step this season. He already is playing on the second power-play unit. And although he has skated on the third line so far at even strength — that slotted him alongside Sam Lafferty and new addition Jason Dickinson on Saturday against the Sharks — a promotion into the top six and even some time next to Patrick Kane would make sense.
“A guy like that should probably be watching [Bruins star Patrice] Bergeron every night,” Hawks coach Luke Richardson recently said of Kurashev. “That’s what he should try to build his game around. A dependable guy on both ends of the rink, play on the power play, play on the [penalty kill] and play against the top lines in the league and be effective.”
Bergeron is an ambitious comparison. But if Kurashev can grow even into a Meier-like player, it would be a massive boon to the Hawks’ rebuild. And Meier sees that potential.
“He has a really good shot, so once he feels comfortable getting in those areas where he can get the shot off and not overthink things, [he can] just let it rip and give it a chance to go in,’’ Meier said. ‘‘He has an unbelievable skill set. For him, it’s just [about] finding that comfortableness and playing in all three zones. He has a real bright future ahead of him.”
Meier’s 262 even-strength scoring chances last season ranked second in the NHL to the Maple Leafs’ Auston Matthews, and many of those were generated by his willingness to drive toward the crease and get in dangerous spots. He helped Kurashev improve in that regard during the offseason.
For the most part, however, they trained as equals. Meier discovered that beneath Kurashev’s reserved outward personality is a tenacious motor, and some of their drills became intense and physical.
“You have to get to know him a little better to see the true personality that’s behind all that,” Meier said. “He’s a competitive guy. He likes to have fun and joke around, but he’s also a guy that’s very, very focused, just like myself.
“We have goals we want to reach, sometimes almost a little too much. We’re both people that sometimes have to take a step back and relax and take a deep breath. In some ways, [with] how we train hard and have visions about where we want to be, we have the same mentality.”
Added Kurashev: “He’s a competitive guy, too. Every small thing, we were competing. Sometimes it got really competitive, but that’s fun. That’s how you learn the most.”
They’ve stayed in close touch since returning to North America for the NHL season, texting with or calling each other most days.
Their schedules didn’t align well enough for a reunion dinner Friday because the Sharks were hosting the Hurricanes while the Hawks enjoyed a day off in San Jose, but they planned to catch up after their teams played Saturday. And they’ll continue following each other’s seasons closely the rest of the way.
“I hope, for him, that it works out,” Meier said. “If he keeps working the way he was this summer, I’m sure Blackhawks fans are going to have fun watching him.”