What’s Behind Blackhawks’ Philipp Kurashev’s Early Success?

Ten games is a small sample size to determine a season a player is having, but for Philipp Kurashev, it feels different. The Chicago Blackhawks have seen enough from their 24-year-old forward to think he has finally hit the plateau they always hoped he would.

He has been doing exceptionally well, being the team’s second-best scorer with 10 points in 10 games (behind Connor Bedard’s 15 points in 16 games), and he is on pace for 82 points in an 82-game setting, which would shatter his career-best 25 points last season. It’s easy to continue to write about how good he has been on the top line with Bedard, but it’s time to take it up a notch and discuss why he is succeeding. Here are some observations I have noticed from his play. 

Kurashev Finally Gets Some Continuity

When looking at Kurashev’s four-year career, he resembles Patrick Kane. During the last seven years, people talked about the Blackhawks taking advantage of Kane in the sense that past management felt comfortable trading all his favorite linemates, i.e., Nick Schmaltz, Alex DeBrincat, Artemi Panarin, etc. because he could play and succeed with everyone. Besides this season, Kurashev was in the same boat as Kane.

The team always wanted him to be a top-six forward. Former head coach Derek King said that back in 2022, but he never got consistent opportunities, and when he did, the team was only sometimes impressed. He could put together 4 points in 5 games and then disappear for the next six games. King mentioned that Kurashev had to improve his work ethic, but that is what made him intriguing. He could produce and score like an NHL veteran, but when he went cold, he was hardly noticeable. So, how could the Blackhawks unlock his talent on a more consistent basis?

Philipp Kurashev Chicago Blackhawks
Philipp Kurashev, Chicago Blackhawks (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Besides the fact that he is a young player, something that could have contributed to him being so streaky is that the Blackhawks have always used him all around the lineup. His versatility is an asset, but for him, it may have affected him. They had him on the third line, second line, first line, and it seemed like he played wherever the wind blew. Last season, they started him on the third line with Jason Dickinson and Sam Lafferty, eventually moving him to a top-six role. He had the Kane effect last season; he played well with everyone but shined in a top-line role with Kane, Max Domi, Lukas Reichel, and Andreas Athanasiou, which gave a sense of hope that is where he could become a mainstay, as always touted.

Related: Blackhawks’ Kurashev Line is Setting the Standard

Kurashev said last year, “There’s been some crazy adjustments I’ve had to make all the time, it’s been up and down (the lineup). But overall, it’s going to make me a better as an overall player, so I can be put in any situation in the game. It’s been maybe a little bit frustrating, but in the long run, it’s going to help me. And I want to help the team get through this rebuild and start to win again.” (from ‘Lazerus: Blackhawks should put Philipp Kurashev in the top six for good’ – The Athletic – 10/15/2022)

This season, it has been different. Kurashev missed the first six games due to a wrist injury he suffered during the preseason. Although head coach Luke Richardson started him on the third line to get his feet wet when he returned, he was quickly placed on the top line with Bedard and Nick Foligno (and now Lukas Reichel in place of Foligno). He has had a solid linemate and role, which has likely made him more comfortable. His frustrations being used everywhere made sense, and he was probably never able to get into a solid rhythm. Now, he has.

Kurashev’s Contract Issues Are Behind Him

Last season was a contract year for Kurashev, and although there weren’t intense worries that he wouldn’t return, contract years can linger in the back of player’s minds. It’s hard not to. Although Kurashev had a career year in points, you never know what direction management will go in. Blackhawks management under general manager Kyle Davidson has been fearless in making bold moves. There was no doubt Kurashev earned a new contract, but it was a lengthy process.

Kurashev was given a qualifying offer in June, but he and the team ended up going to arbitration, which went in his favor, and he was given a two-year, $4.5 million contract. In some cases, arbitration can cause animosity between players and teams because it is all about money, but thankfully, Kurashev didn’t take it that way. He mentioned it was a weird experience but that he harbored no bad feelings and was ready to turn the page.

Philipp Kurashev Chicago Blackhawks
Philipp Kurashev, Chicago Blackhawks (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

If anything, the whole ordeal may have motivated him even more, and he was eager to prove himself. Kurashev stated, “I expect a lot from myself, so hopefully this year I can take a step forward. [It’s about] being more calm and relaxed when I get chances. I think we were creating a lot of chances last year, but . . . the execution wasn’t there always.”

Related: Philipp Kurashev Enters Pivotal Season With the Blackhawks

As much as the Blackhawks wanted him to find that next gear, he wanted it so much more for himself. In a way, the worst pressure was off of him in terms of being secure with the team, but the pressure to prove himself is what he is thriving off of, which is the best kind of drive for a player.

Kurashev Is Having Fun & The Blackhawks Are Benefiting

One thing you can see from Kurashev is that he is having fun. He is playing every game with a massive grin on his face. As the saying in sports goes, results usually follow when you play loose and fun. It’s hard not to have fun when you are playing with Bedard; they have clicked since day one. It also helps that their production has been lights out. The Nick Foligno- Connor Bedard – Philipp Kurashev line has created the most goals (7), scoring chances (34), and high-danger chances (13) on the team. Even with Reichel replacing Foligno, they got a goal.

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Kurashev also looks like a more confident player. He went through streaks the past few years where he would hesitate on plays. Now, he is a threat every time he is on the ice. Everything is going right for him, whether it’s a scoring chance for himself or setting up his teammates.

His teammates have been impressed by him, too. Bedard called him “unreal,” Foligno mentioned how he loves his motor and no-fear play, and head coach Luke Richardson said an instance of him being their best all-around player.

He has his highest career shooting percentage (33.3%, also team-best) and is averaging the most ice time of his career (18:44 minutes) right now. Kurashev is also a plus-1, showing his defensive growth as well. His speed, skill, and high hockey IQ have been evident.

Kurashev talked about wanting to prove to the Blackhawks that he belonged after getting his new contract, and the Blackhawks have always trusted his game, even during the cold stretches. Now, he is proving them right. He also proved himself right when he said his experiences throughout the lineup would make him a better player, and it has. He has been one of their most important players this season: unafraid, confident, and maddening for opponents.

Hopefully, this new Kurashev is here to stay.