Why Kevin Korchinski’s rough night isn’t worrisome for his development with Blackhawks

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LOS ANGELES — Kevin Korchinski is a better player today than he was at the beginning of the season.

That may be a tough sell coming off a game in which he was on the ice for five goals against — a couple he was directly at fault for — in the Chicago Blackhawks’ 6-2 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday, but it’s unfair to judge him in a vacuum.

He’s had good games. He’s had bad games. He’s had everything in between. You could even argue his play Tuesday wasn’t as bad as the scoresheet says. He scored a goal for the second consecutive game — the first time he’s done that in his NHL career — and hit the post another time.

But that’s all this season was supposed to be about for him. When Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson decided Korchinski, at 19 years old, would remain in the NHL this season instead of returning to juniors, everyone understood there would likely be a lot of ups and downs. And, yes, there has been a lot of that.

The reps matter, though. The mistakes matter. The successes matter. It’s all part of developing, especially given how young he is; it’s sometimes easy to forget Korchinski is the youngest defenseman in the NHL. Simon Nemec, who turned 20 in February, is closest in age to Korchinski, and Nemec spent time in the AHL this season.

Korchinski, who doesn’t turn 20 until June 21, has played 63 NHL games and averaged 19:40 of ice time. He’s experienced a lot of every NHL situation at this point.

Korchinski is obviously far from perfecting those situations, but he’s also come a long way. His defensive positioning has improved. He’s in the right place more than he was early in the season. He better understands how to play in the defensive zone. Offensively — offense is his bread and butter — he’s being more aggressive and shooting more. In his last 10 games, he’s attempted 41 shots.

There’s no doubt he and Blackhawks assistant coach Kevin Dean will sit down Wednesday and go over his latest batch of film, assessing what he did well and what he can do better.

For example, there’s something for Korchinski to learn on this play:

“(Adrian) Kempe had a really good play — he was coming at him and then pulled off, and he turned it over right to him unfortunately, and he made a great play to (Anze) Kopitar on that goal,” Blackhawks coach Luke Richardson said. “That was a hard goal. If you look back, there’s plays before that (where) we turned the puck over at the blue line, so it puts those D under the gun.”

Korchinski will learn to shoulder check more. He’ll gain a better feel for that type of play. In time, he’ll execute it better.

And then there’s a play like this:


“Korch definitely has got to get bigger and stronger at the net, boxing out, and that was seen on a couple of the goals,” Richardson said. “But again, if you roll the film back, there’s always something before. We’ve got to make sure, especially on the road against a big team like this, if we can keep our defense out of those situations, out of those problems as much as we can, it’ll benefit us, especially on the road where we don’t have last change on who’s out there.”

Korchinski can learn to establish better position. There are tricks of the trade to prevent Phillip Danault from getting inside him like that.

But there’s also the fact Korchinski needs to put on weight and get stronger. Again, everyone knew that entering this season. He hasn’t had much of an offseason in a few years — his Seattle Thunderbirds went far in the WHL playoffs and Memorial Cup the last two seasons and he’s attended Team Canada camps. He’s added some muscle to his frame, but there’s still a ways to go.

“I’ve noticed a big change in him in a year, and that’s great,” Richardson said. “He’s going to have to have another big change in a year. But that’s every young player.”

Plus, as Richardson noted, Korchinski might benefit from taking a different approach on the ice. That usually comes with experience, too.

“Defensemen especially, and I think part of it is a mindset and a personality on the ice,” Richardson said. “Kevin is the greatest kid in the world; he’s a really nice kid. He’s got to get a little bit of an edge that he’s not letting anybody into that crease. They’ve got to go all the way around him, the long way. That allows him to get on the right side, to get under sticks so there’s no tip goals and rebound goals. That’s all of us, though, really, out there on the back end. But Kevin is a young, up-and-coming guy that can shoot a puck like he did tonight and last game. We’ve got to make sure he has more opportunities to do that in the offensive zone and not chasing guys around in the D-zone.”

With games next against the Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks, Korchinski will likely have more of those opportunities. He could use that, too, after Tuesday. Keeping his confidence up is part of the development equation.

But Korchinski’s struggles on Tuesday shouldn’t be a concern or open the door to a big-picture debate about what was best for his development this season. There was nothing significant to gain from another year in junior. He may not have been completely ready for the NHL, but he was close enough and will benefit in the long run from this season.

(Photo: Kiyoshi Mio / USA Today)

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