Blackhawks still waiting for Philipp Kurashev to show what he could be

Kurashev’s flashes of skill and creativity hint at top-six upside, but his consistency and production have yet to reflect that as his second NHL season winds down.

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Philipp Kurashev ranks ninth on the Blackhawks with 18 points this season.

AP Photo/David Becker

Philipp Kurashev knows he fits best as a first- or second-line winger.

“Most of my life, I played on the top two lines,” Kurashev said Monday. “That’s where I’m trying to get to here at [the NHL] level, too. I’m going to work my hardest to try to get there.”

Blackhawks interim coach Derek King knows that, too.

“He’s got to be a top-six player, if you’re in a perfect world,” King said.

But the challenge, for Kurashev and the Hawks, has been to justify putting him in a top-six role, then receiving the necessary production to justify keeping him there.

As Kurashev, still only 22, nears the end of his second season as a full-time NHL forward, that confluence of events has yet to occur.

“The work part of it — the consistency of the work ethic — [has been] his struggle,” King said. “He’d give you a couple of good games, then he’d fade away. So you’d put him on the bottom line, hoping he learns to work well without the puck.”

That cycle of Kurashev slotting into a big role, then a depth role, then being healthy-scratched has happened over and over this season.

He nonetheless keeps restarting that cycle rather than falling into permanent irrelevance because he shows flashes of dynamic talent with the puck on his stick.

Memories of his Connor McDavid-style wonder goal in February 2021 in Detroit resurface whenever he dangles past a defenseman or makes a zone entry look easy or perfectly reads a developing offensive play — and he does those things just often enough to stay interesting.

Taken on the whole, however, Kurashev’s body of work doesn’t stand out. He ranks ninth on the Hawks with 18 points (six goals, 12 assists) in 59 games — a nearly identical scoring pace to last season, when he had 16 points in 54 games.

He ranks 18th (as in, fourth-worst) on the team with a 42.0% even-strength scoring-chance ratio. He also falls below the league average in dump-in retrievals, carry-ins with possession, shots, shot-attempt assists and just about every other advanced stat, according to All Three Zones.

“Overall [I need to work on my] consistency,” he said. “Every time you’re in, you’ve got to do positive things for the team. That’s a hard thing, but that’s what I’m trying to do.”

He’s a pending restricted free agent and said “of course” he wants to earn a new contract. The Hawks probably will try to bring him back at another cheap salary, but they’ll surely wish — when they enter negotiations — they had a clearer idea of what Kurashev is and what he could become.

Perhaps this season’s last 11 games will provide a glimpse. After two games out of the lineup, Kurashev was thrust Sunday onto a new first line with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, of all people. It sounds like he’ll stay there Tuesday against the Kings and beyond, too.

“Coming [into] the last 11, it was like, ‘OK, if certain guys are going to be in the lineup, they’ve got to play in the spot that we think they may be able to play,’ ’’ King said. “And that’s where we think he may be able to play: the top six.

“He’s a creative guy. He has some skill. He has some hockey sense. But it’s just the working part he has to get. Hopefully all those practices, not playing, getting bag-skated or being on the third and fourth line — during games when he is in — helps him now.”

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