Kevin Korchinski plays the same position — defenseman — as most of the Blackhawks’ upper-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 than a lot of the defensemen we’ve drafted the last few years,” scouting director Mike Doneghey said. “He’s puck-friendly. He’ll be a first-unit power-play guy. [He] projects to be a first-pairing defenseman. [He] can eat minutes.”
The final years of ex-scouting director Mark Kelley’s tenure did feature a heavy focus on big, physical, 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) roughly fit that description. So does Alec Regula, acquired in 2020 from the Red Wings.
The only exceptions in the system are Ian Mitchell, Jakub Galvas and Wyatt Kaiser, but those guys are more undersized two-way defensemen than true offensive defensemen.
Korchinski is different. He’s already 6-2 and 185 pounds and is expected to continue growing. He just turned 18 in June. A fantastic skater, Korchinski has really blossomed lately in that category.
And he has the offensive instincts to become an elite puck-moving, playmaking defenseman in the NHL one day, along the lines of Dougie Hamilton, Zach Werenski or his idol, Shea Theodore.
“The defensemen we’ve taken, they’re big guys, they can skate, they can make a good first pass, they can handle the puck [and] they defend well, but none of them project as . . . Bowen Byram-type defensemen, like that type of player,” Doneghey said. “[They’re] good pieces. But Kevin, he screams top-unit power play, up top of the umbrella. He moves so well. His vision [is so good].”
Korchinski described himself Monday: “I’m always trying to create offense. That’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 this week’s main attractions among the 37 prospects at 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 projected to land in the first half of the round, he never expected he’d end up in Chicago.
The Hawks had nonetheless prepared for all scenarios, and after acquiring the seventh pick, they focused on Korchinski and forwards Cutter Gauthier and Marco Kasper. Gauthier went fifth to the Flyers, and Korchinski ultimately won out over Kasper, who went eighth to the Red Wings.
“[We] had the mindset that if that type of defenseman was going to be available to us . . . the value was there to take him,” Doneghey said.
In 2021, as an awkward first-year player for the Seattle Thunderbirds, Korchinski hardly stood out. But this past season, the Saskatchewan native — having smoothed out his skating stride — emerged as a star. He had 84 points (10 goals, 74 assists) and a plus-42 rating in 93 regular-season and postseason games.
“[I worked on] adapting and realizing what kind of player I had to be,” he said. “As the year went on, I progressed and I matured a lot [about knowing] when to jump up in the rush, when to pick my spots.”
He’s still a year or two away from NHL readiness, and the Hawks will be careful not to rush him.
But as the process of weeding through their mass of young de-fensemen to determine their future corps begins, the Hawks view Kor-chinski as driving in a different lane on the highway to the NHL.