Katchouk could be a blue-collar Blackhawks hero in the making
Chicago's a blue-collar town, so it's no surprise that its sports fans have always cheered a bit harder for the hardworking athlete.
The Blackhawks have had dozens of players who fit the bill over the years and it's fair to wonder if we aren't seeing another develop right before our eyes in Boris Katchouk.
Now, look, it will obviously take more than two weeks of impressive play before we start putting the 24-year-old forward in the same sentence as someone like Andrew Shaw.
But Katchouk has come an awfully long way over the past year since being traded by Tampa Bay in the Brandon Hagel deal.
His opening news conference was one for the books, and he certainly earned an A+ for honesty when he said: "It sucks to leave such a winning culture and come into a rebuild. But it's part of the process."
Oof. Welcome, aboard Boris?
The process has been bumpy, and Katchouk -- who missed almost four weeks in October with an ankle injury -- was mired in a low-minute, fourth-line role for much of the season. He averaged 9:54 over his first 34 games, playing less than 9 minutes eight times, with a low of 5:44 vs. Edmonton on Nov. 30.
"I know he was frustrated," coach Luke Richardson said last week. "But you could see something there; just not the confidence to do it."
Well, guess what? That confidence has soared since the trade deadline passed on March 2.
You could see it building at Detroit on March 8 when Katchouk played 12 minutes and took 3 shots on goal. Then he scored two nights later in Florida. It was his first point in a month and first goal since Jan. 26.
But those were just warmup acts.
The main event came against Boston on March 14 when Katchouk showed everyone what kind of player he might become if given a consistent role.
• Katchouk first impressed by digging a puck out of a four-man scrum in the corner and taking it around the net. The puck slid off his stick on the stuff attempt, but found its way to Joey Anderson, who shot it home to give the Hawks a 2-1 lead late in the second period.
• He then assisted on one of the crazier goals of the season. In the midst of a mad scramble in front of the net, Katchouk was one of nine players in or near the crease. The puck squirted to Katchouk, who shot it off the rear end of Bruins D-man Charlie McAvoy. It bounced off Jujhar Khaira and right to Taylor Raddysh, who scored to tie the game at 3-3.
• Three minutes later, Katchouk blistered home a shot that gave the Hawks a lead they would not relinquish. The incredible one-man effort included a sweet forehand/backhand move around Derek Forbort at the offensive blue line.
Like any good grinder, Katchouk spread the praise around afterward.
"Definitely got some more opportunity tonight and I feel like I capitalized," he said. "But to my linemates, (Anderson) and (Khaira), they played a hell of a game. It's not just me out there; it's them too."
Said Richardson: "He's a great personality in the dressing room, the guys love him and they're really happy for him tonight. So to see him have a real highlight goal like that tonight, that was excellent."
Katchouk, who had just 2 goals and 4 assists in his first 40 games, has doubled those numbers in the last six contests.
If these last two weeks are no mirage and Katchouk continues to ascend, we could easily see his contract extended before his deal expires next season.
And that would indeed be quite the blue-collar success story.
Chicago Blackhawks center Jason Dickinson, top, pins Colorado Avalanche defenseman Bowen Byram to the board during a fight for control of the puck in the second period of an NHL hockey game Monday, March 20, 2023, in Denver.
- Associated Press
Avs 5, Blackhawks 0:
The visiting Hawks hung with Colorado for a while, but yielded a pair of third-period goals in just 14 seconds and lost for the ninth time in 12 games.
The Avs, who have won six straight and are 21-5-3 since Jan. 14, got 2 goals from Denis Malgin. His second, at 13:47, completed the scoring.
Alex Stalock started in net for the Hawks and made a remarkable, diving stick save on a shot by Nathan Mackinnon in the first period. Stalock finished with 27 saves.
The Hawks (24-40-6) were shut out for the eighth time this season. They have just 4 goals in the last three games.
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