Chicago Blackhawks top defenseman prospect Kevin Korchinski is expected to play in his 10th NHL game of the season on Saturday, which means his entry-level contract will kick in this season and not next.
It should come as no surprise. He's earned his spot, and the Blackhawks probably don't mind that he'll get to his second contract quicker.
That being said, the Blackhawks have not formally told Korchinski that he'll be in the NHL for the entire season, which is what the previous regime did with Kirby Dach when he was approaching the 10-game mark as a rookie. It was a different circumstance at that time.
Korchinski's stint with the Blackhawks continues to be an ongoing evaluation, although it's hard to see him returning to the WHL at this point. (He's ineligible to play in the AHL this season due to CHL rules).
"Nothing's given in this league, so for me I'm just trying to earn my place every day and earn my spot every day and just take nothing for granted," Korchinski said. "It's a privilege being here. I'm just trying to get better every day, work on the stuff I can work on, and kind of display the stuff that makes me a good hockey player."
So far, so good for Korchinski, who doesn't look out of place.
"Obviously there's ups and downs," Korchinski said. "At the end of the day, that's what I'm here for, is to kind of learn through the whole process and learn what it's like to be an NHLer."
The next thing to watch for — other than whether the Blackhawks will allow Korchinski to represent Team Canada in the 2024 IIHF World Junior Championship — is the 40-game mark. If Korchinski plays in 40 or more games this season, it would pull him a year closer to unrestricted free agency.
The Blackhawks aren't viewing that number as an important cutoff. They're ultimately going to do what's best for the development of the player.
"He’s played great, so no conversation means he’s probably not going anywhere," Blackhawks head coach Luke Richardson said. "He’s playing with confidence.
"Offensively, he’s got the natural characteristics of the young players nowadays. He skates well, he sees the ice well. We’d like to see him shoot the puck a little bit more and we’ve told that to him every day, especially on the power play, and I think he’s starting to get that a little bit. Once he gets his confidence going offensively, I think you’ll see a lot more production from him as well."
Defensively, his game is a work in progress. It probably always will be. But he feels he's taking strides in that area.
"I think just kind of getting used to learning that every player's a good player, whether you're going against the top guys, guys that put up points or just guys that are just kind of on depth chart," Korchinski said. "It doesn't really matter, they're great hockey players, they're here for a reason, they make a living playing this game, so I think for me it's just kind of going hard against every guy, it doesn't matter who they are."
The only way I could see Korchinski returning to the WHL is if he hits a rookie wall during the middle point of the season, mentally and physically. The grind of an 82-game season in the NHL is an adjustment for players making the jump from college or juniors, and that's not including playoffs.
Korchinski, who will play the entire season at 19 years old, hasn't shown any signs of that yet.
"I try and take it game by game, day by day," Korchinski said. "I guess you can say the past is in the past, for me. I think just learning from whether I had a good game or a bad game, you're learning from it and trying to get better. That's all you can do. You're only as good as your last game, so that's the mindset I have."