After another similar season, can Blackhawks’ Philipp Kurashev still reach another level?

Kurashev has shown flashes of greater potential, but all three of his NHL seasons have ended up being virtually the same. As a 23-year-old pending restricted free agent, the big mystery is: Has he reached his ceiling yet?

SHARE After another similar season, can Blackhawks’ Philipp Kurashev still reach another level?
Philipp Kurashev looks on.

Philipp Kurashev’s third Blackhawks season ended up looking very similar to his first two.

David Zalubowski/AP

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — A season that began with great promise for Blackhawks forward Philipp Kurashev ended up being basically the same as his first two NHL seasons.

After training last summer with then-Sharks, now-Devils star Timo Meier, Kurashev roared out of the gates in October, notching points in six of his first nine games and proving to be the common denominator in determining which Hawks line was most effective during coach Luke Richardson’s first month.

“He was such a good player at the beginning of the year that we felt the trust was there,” Richardson said Thursday. “[Even] not knowing him that much, we could move him around anywhere.”

But Kurashev’s tremendous start contrasted with a sluggish ending. The 23-year-old Switzerland native had only four points in his last 22 appearances (from Jan. 21 on) and no points in his last eight before seeing his season cut short by a shoulder injury suffered March 23.

He finished 2022-23 with 25 points in 70 games, setting career highs in both categories but not exactly taking the significant step forward for which he once seemed on track.

During five-on-five play, Kurashev has been virtually the exact same player all three years. His points rate (per 60 minutes) has gone from 1.09 to 1.20 to 1.18. His shot rate has increased slightly year over year from 8.3 to 10.0 to 10.2, but his scoring-chance rate has slightly decreased from 6.2 to 5.8 to 5.7.

His defensive results haven’t really improved, either. The Hawks finished with a 40.0% scoring-chance ratio during his five-on-five ice time, ranking him 10th out of the team’s 13 most used forwards this season.

Last season, he also ranked 10th out of 13 at 43.9%. The season before, he ranked ninth out of 13 at 43.8%. The only remarkable thing about those numbers is their similarity.

On the power play, Kurashev experienced a big jump in usage this season — averaging more than two minutes per game for the first time — but he failed to take advantage. He didn’t score a power-play goal, and the Hawks’ power-play goals rate with him on the ice dropped to 3.4 this season (down from 6.3 and 4.4 his first two seasons).

He took 13.6 shots per 60 power-play minutes (compared to 15.0 and 8.9 his first two seasons) and had 9.8 scoring chances (compared to 9.5 and 6.7).

Kurashev has more than proved his status as a solid NHL forward at this point. But his lack of progress is concerning as the Hawks try to determine which players might be worth keeping through the rebuild and onto the other side.

Among their current forwards, Lukas Reichel is really the only certainty to fall in that category. Taylor Raddysh, who just turned 25, has a chance; a few others have longer (albeit conceivable) odds.

Kurashev falls closest of anyone to the borderline, though. He always has shown flashes — dating back to the 2021 no-fans season — of dynamic offensive ability, be it in a few shifts or a single game or even a single week. Game-to-game consistency, however, has eluded him, even though that has resulted in remarkable season-to-season consistency.

Those flashes also don’t appear to be getting more frequent. Richardson urged him to bulk up more this summer, believing that combined “with his hockey intelligence and skill level” could help him “take that next step.”

The worst outcome would be for Kurashev to max out as neither productive enough to justify a second-line role nor responsible enough to fit a third-line role on a contending team. That outcome seems alarmingly possible at this point.

But he won’t have that issue on a rebuilding team, and he has runway left to indicate otherwise. He’s a pending restricted free agent with arbitration rights this summer, but he likely will be re-signed.

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