BETTER LATE THAN NEVER
It has taken awhile, but Katchouk has found stride at last
DENVER — Five months into the season, wing Boris Katchouk finally has found his niche on the Blackhawks and his recipe for success on the ice.
His forechecking ability has emerged as one of the Hawks’ brightest spots of March.
Coach Luke Richardson would’ve loved for Katchouk to discover that earlier. But the assertiveness with which he suddenly is playing is nonetheless rewarding to see.
‘‘He’s moving his feet, skating well and using his big body,’’ Richardson said. ‘‘The big difference for him now is he’s doing all those right things, but [he also has] confidence when he’s getting the puck back and making plays, instead of maybe tossing it away quick, [like a] hot potato.
‘‘This has really boosted his confidence.
Even when he makes a play that’s not the right play, he’s into the game and he knows that and he can self-correct. Even if we talk to him, he already knows. That’s a good sign.’’
Katchouk’s line with Jujhar Khaira at center and Joey Anderson on the opposite wing has been ridiculously good in the last couple of weeks.
The three officially were promoted from the fourth line to the third based on warmup order, but Richardson recently joked he ‘‘might want to say they’re the first line right now.’’
In 84 minutes together at five-on-five (entering play Monday) since being united in practice March 3, they have a 56.0% shot ratio and a 57.3% scoring-chance ratio and have outscored opponents 6-1.
Individually, all three have scoring-chance ratios higher than 52.0% in the last eight games; every other Hawks forward is at or below 42.0% during the same time period. They’ve been carrying the team on their backs.
‘‘We’re talking before every game to see what our tendencies are, and we’re just picking up off each other’s reads,’’ Katchouk said.
Anderson greatly has exceeded expectations since coming over from the Maple Leafs, another example of general manager Kyle Davidson’s ability to identify underappreciated players in other organizations. Khaira, meanwhile, has returned from injury seamlessly and adjusted to playing center.
But Katchouk’s surge has been perhaps most surprising of all, considering how much he had struggled — and how little he had played — before this explosion.
He entered Monday with as many points (six) in his last six games as he had in his previous 39. Furthermore, 38% of his shots and 29% of his scoring chances this season have come during this six-game span.
‘‘I’m definitely getting a lot more opportunity,’’ he said. ‘‘My confidence is riding high right now.’’
His goal last week against the Bruins — embarrassing Derek Forbort with a slick deke before sniping the top corner — looked more like a highlight by Oilers star Connor McDavid. Nothing demonstrated his growing confidence better.
For the most part, however, Katchouk has made his contributions not with highlightreel plays but with unheralded forechecking. He ranks third on the Hawks in forecheck pressures and recovered dump-ins per minute, according to All Three Zones data.
He and Anderson, in particular, have scored several goals recently by terrorizing opponents below the goal line, forcing turnovers, then crashing the crease.
‘‘It’s just [about] forcing them to go up the wall or forcing them to go behind the net,’’ Katchouk said. ‘‘The first forechecker forces them one way, and then the second guy is right behind in close support to get the puck.’’
As the Hawks’ front office begins looking toward next season, the fact Katchouk has turned this season from one to forget into one of growth has to be encouraging.
He more likely than not will be sticking around because he has another year under contract at a cheap $758,000 salary-cap hit.