TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. – It's starting to look like the Chicago Blackhawks got a steal in Philipp Kurashev.
A fourth-round draft pick in 2018 (120th overall), Kurashev will leave the Traverse City Prospect Tournament as one of the bright spots for the Blackhawks in an otherwise disastrous effort from the club. Following some dangerous opportunities against the host Detroit Red Wings on Friday, Kurashev had two points against the Toronto Maple Leafs the following evening, and while Chicago fell short against St. Louis and was relegated to the last-place game, Kurashev had multiple opportunities though just failed click with linemates Brandon Hagel and Dylan McLaughlin against the Blues.
"The first game was tough," Kurashev said. "I didn't play my game, but I think it was still good that we got the win. But then in the second game, I started to get in the rhythm and get my legs back and it worked out."
Still, there's something to work with here.
Despite recording 60 points in 59 games in 2017-18, Kurashev didn't have a spectacular season by 18-year-old major junior standards (he was 18th among U-19 scorers in the Q). And while he only saw minimal offensive improvement last season, registering 65 points on a weak Quebec Remparts squad, Kurashev seemed like a completely different player. He led the World Junior Championship with six goals and was arguably the unofficial MVP of the round robin. Kurashev capped the season off with four points in eight games in his men's national team debut at the World Championship in May, further cementing his status as a legitimate top prospect in the Hawks organization.
"He was way better than where he landed in the draft," a QMJHL scout said. "He has the tools to become a slick puck-handling center. He knows how to find his teammates and make them better. He's a steal, for sure."
Kurashev has the tools one looks for in a small, skilled pivot, and set set to turn pro full-time this season after a three-game stint with Rockford to end the 2018-19 campaign, an NHL audition isn't off the table. He is, however, facing quite the training camp battle as Chicago has depth down the middle and 2019 first-round pick (3rd overall) Kirby Dach has the edge in terms of young talent. "Obviously, the goal is to play in the NHL," he said. "Hopefully, I can play there this season, but I'm going to try my best and we'll see what happens."
Regardless of whether Kurashev remains a center or slides to the wing to continue his development, his NHL upside is intriguing. He twice led Quebec in scoring and would have done so in all three years had he not missed time in 2017-18. Kurashev has spent the past few years creating opportunities for his teammates without having the top-tier help to push him to the next level. That leaves one wondering what he can do with a full season in the AHL with the likes of Hagel, MacKenzie Entwistle, Aleksi Saarela and veteran Kris Versteeg.
"Kurashev has speed to kill," the scout said. "He plays at such a high tempo and he's smart when distributing the puck. He can do most things well. Defensively, he's a work in progress, but one that you can mold. If you can line him up with quality linemates, I think we'll see what Kurashev is truly capable of producing."
Realistically, Kurashev is a few years away from being an everyday NHLer, but he has quickly become a prospect to watch in the Windy City. Working on his consistency will help set things in motion, but his strong 2018-19 season in addition to a solid rookie tournament showing in Traverse City should have Blackhawks fans excited about his future.
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