What’s the plan for Blackhawks prospect Kevin Korchinski in 2023-24? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Chicago Blackhawks saw a lot of progress from their prospects this past season, particularly from the 2022 draft class. And the one that led the way was No. 7 overall pick Kevin Korchinski.
Korchinski, who turned 19 on June 21, registered 11 goals and 62 assists for 73 points in 54 games for the Seattle Thunderbirds, which was an eight-point improvement from the previous season in 13 fewer games played. Most notably, his points-per-game average of 1.35 was the second-best average among Western Hockey League defensemen 19 or younger since the 1999-2000 season.
Korchinski added 14 points (three goals, 11 assists) in 19 postseason contests, guiding the Thunderbirds to a WHL championship — the Ed Chynoweth Cup. They finished as the runner-up in the Memorial Cup. He also helped Team Canada win a gold medal at the 2023 IIHF World Junior Championship with four points (one goal, three assists) in seven games, although he was more of a role player than a driving force, given his age.
“Coming up short in the Memorial Cup, that was a heartbreaker, but overall winning the Western and the World Juniors, it was really special,” Korchinski said. “And doing it with the guys I did it with, it was really cool.”
It was a strong campaign for Korchinski, both individually and from a team standpoint. And that’s what makes his potential landing spot for the 2023-24 season an interesting decision.
Due to Canadian Hockey League rules, Korchinski is not eligible to play in the American Hockey League this coming season, which means his only options are the NHL or back to the WHL. It’s just like Kirby Dach’s situation in 2019-20. Korchinski can only play in the AHL if it’s for a conditioning stint, which is a maximum of 14 days.
On one hand, the Blackhawks most certainly don’t want to make the same mistake in the past by rushing their higher-end prospects to the NHL sooner than they’re actually ready. They’re preaching patience and want them to over-marinate. Plus, Korchinski is still very young, and it takes a little longer for defensemen to develop into full-time NHL players than forwards.
On the flip side, how is Korchinski supposed to top the season he just had in the WHL? I’m sure there are areas for him to improve upon, but you don’t want to ruin a kid’s confidence either by not rewarding him for strong play.
So how do the Blackhawks find the correct balance? The answer might be: spending time in both leagues.
What I could see happening is, Korchinski starts the season with the Blackhawks and plays some NHL games — perhaps even more than nine, which would burn the first year of his entry-level contract. His performance would likely determine how long that stint would last.
Whenever his stint runs out, Korchinski would likely be returned to Seattle, where he could continue his development and log top-pairing minutes. It should also be noted that the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship runs from Dec. 26-Jan. 5 in Sweden, and Korchinski is expected to represent and play a large role for Team Canada.
In the scenario above, Korchinski would get a taste of what it’s like to play against the best players in the world, which could be beneficial for whenever he does return to the WHL because it’d allow him to focus on specific areas of his game. . The off-ice part and getting acclimated to the pro environment is important, too. It feels like a win-win for both sides.
“I thought he had a good camp last year and obviously a great season,” Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said. “Now it’s time for him to rest and rejuvenate and just come and show us that he belongs here next year at rookie camp and main camp. I don’t expect anything less from him.
“He’s a guy that’s got a high-end motor and goes. He can definitely skate in the league. We want to make sure that he’s going to be comfortable and able to defend and do everything else a defenseman has to do in this league. play. It’s kind of up in the air right now. We want him to show his best. We’re confident he’s going to be here. When? We don’t want to put a label on that right now.”
Korchinski isn’t stressing about where he’ll play next season. His mentality is obviously to make the team, but he understands the value in letting the process play out. His job is to make the team’s decision to send him back difficult.
“For me, just taking it day by day, just getting stronger every day,” said Korchinski, who’s up to about 193 pounds after weighing in at 185 last year. “Obviously the off-ice stuff is stuff I really want to work on this summer. Being in the gym every day, working on my shot. And then when I am on the ice, working on my skating, my skills, my defensive play Just trying to improve as best I can for training camp to put my best foot forward.”
The Blackhawks aren’t going to get in the way of Korchinski’s development by blocking him from the NHL this year. If he’s ready, he’s ready. But they’re also going to take an extra cautious approach because of the organization’s recent history of pushing prospects along too fast.
“It’s a tough balance,” Davidson said. “You see it every year, there are the players that people think they’re too good for the CHL but maybe not ready for the NHL, and so that’s the balance you’re always trying to strike.
“But in the end, we’re just going to leave it up to him. We’ll see how he does, how he comes into training camp. He had a long year, a long couple of years in junior, and hopefully he has a good summer where he continues to build his body and continues to grow into his frame and he’s ready for that full pro hockey season.
“We’re not making any decisions on him at this point. Hopefully he forces our hand and has a great training camp, but we’ll leave that up to him and then we’ll decide what’s best for his development moving forward. But it is a tough one for some of those players that are ineligible for American Hockey League play, so we’ll kind of see where he ends up in September and go from there.”
The Blackhawks probably wouldn’t mind if the first year of Korchinski’s contract was burned, but they’re not going to set a number in their head. They’re going to trust the process.
“Everything is on the table, for sure,” Davidson said. “I think I discussed it back with Lukas Reichel, when we burned his contract, we’re just going to do what the best development path dictates. If that’s playing five games, if that’s playing 25, 30, more, whatever, we” re just going to make those decisions along the way.
“As much as I want to be patient with players, it’s patience at the right times. And it’s just knowing what they can handle, so if a player and their development dictates going back to the CHL or the AHL or whatever it might be, we’re not going to let contract slides or anything impact putting them in the best situation to grow into the players we want them to be. Because in the end, if they slide and you get the extra year, if they’re not the player you want them to be at that time, then none of this matters. So we’re just going to try to make them the players they think they can become and put them in the situations that we think are most conducive to that.”
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