Kevin Korchinski skates in a different lane than other potential Blackhawks defensemen
Kevin Korchinski is in the same position — defenseman — as most of the Blackhawks’ top-tier prospects.
But the Hawks see Korchinski, the highest of their three first-round picks in the 2022 draft, as unique in their prospect pipeline.
“He’s different from a lot of the defensemen we’ve drafted in the past few years,” scouting director Mike Doneghey said. “He loves the puck. He’ll be a first-unit power-play guy. [He] plans to be a first pair defender. [He] can eat minutes.
The final years of former scouting director Mark Kelley’s tenure focused on big, physical and defensive defensemen. Alex Vlasic (2019 second round), Isaak Phillips (2020 fifth round), Nolan Allan (2021 first round), Taige Harding (2021 third round) and Ethan Del Mastro (2021 fourth round) pretty much fit that description. Just like Alec Regula, acquired in 2020 from the Red Wings.
The only exceptions in the system are Ian Mitchell, Jakub Galvas and Wyatt Kaiser, but these guys are more undersized two-way defenders than true offensive defenders.
Korchinsky is different. He already weighs 6ft 2in and 185lbs and should continue to grow. He just turned 18 in June. A fantastic skater, Korchinski has really blossomed in this category lately.
And he has the offensive instincts to one day become an elite defenseman who moves the puck and plays in the NHL, like Dougie Hamilton, Zach Werenski or his idol, Shea Theodore.
“The defensemen we took, they are great guys, they can skate, they can make a good first pass, they can handle the puck [and] they defend well, but neither of them projects as . . . Bowen Byram-type defenders, like that type of player,” Doneghey said. “[They’re] good bits. But Kevin, he shouts the power play from the upper unit, at the top of the umbrella. He moves so well. His vision [is so good].”
Korchinski described himself on Monday: “I always try to create offense. It’s kind of my thing. In the offensive zone and in transition, [I’m] just using my feet and using my vision to make good passes.
He and fellow first-rounders Frank Nazar and Sam Rinzel are the main attractions this week among the 37 prospects in development camp, which began Monday.
Less than a week ago, however, Korchinski had never met the Hawks front office. With the Hawks not holding a first-round pick until Thursday afternoon and Korchinski slated to land in the first half of the round, he didn’t expect him to end up in Chicago.
The Hawks had nevertheless prepared for all scenarios, and after acquiring the seventh pick, they focused on Korchinski and forwards Cutter Gauthier and Marco Kasper. Gauthier finished fifth for the Flyers and Korchinski finally got the better of Kasper, who went eighth for the Red Wings.
“[We] had the mindset that if this type of defender was going to be available to us. . . the value was there to take it,” Doneghey said.
In 2021, as an awkward freshman for the Seattle Thunderbirds, Korchinski barely stood out. But last season, the Saskatchewan native — having flattened his skating stride — became a star. He had 84 points (10 goals, 74 assists) and a plus-42 differential in 93 regular season and postseason games.
“[I worked on] adapting and realizing what kind of player I had to be,” he said. “Over the year, I have progressed and matured a lot [about knowing] when to jump in a rush, when to choose my spots.
He’s still a year or two away from being NHL ready, and the Hawks will be careful not to rush him.
But as the process of weeding their mass of young defensemen to determine their future body begins, the Hawks see Kor-chinski heading down a different path on the highway to the NHL.