Philip Kurashev’s chemistry with Connor Bedard bodes well for him and the Blackhawks

Philip Kurashev’s chemistry with Connor Bedard bodes well for him and the Blackhawks

Blackhawks forward Philipp Kurashev hasn’t been shy about anything — including a jellyfish — this season.

Six games since returning from a left wrist injury suffered in the season opener, Kurashev was swimming in the ocean Friday outside the Hawks Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., when a jellyfish stung his left wrist.

He downplayed the pain after practice on Saturday, calling it “just a little burn,” and it did not affect his availability Sunday for the Hawks’ loss to the Panthers.

But if he had some special sea creature powers now, he wouldn’t complain. This season presents an important opportunity — given that he’s 24, four years into his NHL career and making $2.25 million — to prove that he can be a consistent offensive weapon for the Hawks long-term, and he’s recognized that fact time and time again.

Dynamic, eye-opening, productive stretches followed by lethargic, invisible, unproductive stretches have been a recurring pattern throughout Kurashev’s first three seasons, so any small success should be taken with a grain of salt.

He has had some success in the past few weeks, since coach Luke Richardson placed him on the first line alongside Connor Bedard and Nick Foligno.

On the one hand, it’s easy to assume that Bedard is the real driver of this success and that Kurashev is just the lucky recipient. On the other hand, putting Kurashev on the Bedard line coincided with Bedard catching fire, and this phenomenon — Kurashev making teammates better — is something the Hawks have witnessed before from time to time.

Right now, Bedard appears to have stronger chemistry with Kurashev than any other Hawks forward, an exciting development for the latter’s quest to surpass his modest 2022-23 stat line of 25 points in 70 games. With six points in his first seven games of the 2023-24 season, he is on pace to do so with ease.

“(Our line) is starting to get used to each other and (we know) where each other likes to be on the ice,” Kurashev said. “You can read each other that way. It’s been successful, and hopefully we can keep it going.”

Bedard has taken an interest in Kurashev several times recently.

“He’s really smart,” Bedard said. “He sees the ice well. He’s willing to go get the puck, and off the corner, he makes quick plays and just sees where guys are. It’s really impressive to see that.”

It’s been a lot of fun playing with him, and we talk on the bench about plays we think we can make. This adds to the chemistry.”

Richardson urged Kurashev – along with most other Falcons – to start shooting more frequently because Kurashev’s shooting rates had decreased significantly. He only had two shots on goal (out of 10 attempts) during 5v5 play.

However, this may not be such a big deal, when Bedard – who will never be accused of not shooting enough – is by his side. Kurashev seemed focused on being more than just a puck retriever and setup man for Bidar, and he thrived in that role.

On Thursday at the Lightning, Kurashev assisted on both of Bedard’s goals, including a powerful shot into the net before the first.

And on Sunday, before Bedard stripped Kevin Stenlund of his snip, it was Kurashev who forced Stenlund back toward his goal line by cutting off his potential exit route from the zone along the boards.

Richardson noted that play as well, reporting Monday that Kurashev was “fully committed to that goal” despite not officially getting an assist.

“He’s not afraid to go into difficult areas, and I think that bodes well for him,” Foligno said recently. “He’s still a guy trying to figure out who he is. And I think he realizes there are some things he does really well.”

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