ROCKFORD, IL - There's a new face in Rockford and he's made quite the first impression, even without his own gear.
Due to a snow storm and then a hold-up in customs, Philipp Kurashev played the first two games of his professional career in the American Hockey League without his own broken-in equipment or skates.
"It was really tough, for sure. Mentally it was tough," said the 19-year-old forward.
But even with that little bit of adversity, Kurashev did just fine.
"He had to buy a pair of skates, order new gear and he jumped in," said Rockford Head Coach Derek King. "Didn't look out of place. I protected him a little bit and put him in situations where it'll help him but I'm excited to watch this kid grow."
Maybe he doesn't have any points in his first two games, but to the trained hockey-eye Kurashev looks the part.
"He's a hockey player," said King, with emphasis. "He's going to be a good hockey player. I'm impressed with him."
Kurashev is certainly an intriguing prospect.
Taken by the Blackhawks 120th overall in the fourth round of the 2018 NHL Draft, Kurashev has lit up the stat sheet wherever he's played. The Swiss-born player of Russian decent compiled 29 goals and 65 total points in 59 games this season for Quebec in the QMJHL.
But that was to be expected, coming off a 60-point sophomore campaign in his draft year. It was at this year's World Juniors where the whispers of Kurashev's name in hockey circles became shouts.
For a surprise Swiss squad, he led the entire tournament in goals with six and tallied seven total points.
"That was my goal," Kurashev said. "I wanted to show myself and help the team get a medal. Obviously, we didn't do it. We lost in the bronze game, but I think it was a great experience, a fun time and I'm happy with the tournament."
Upon the conclusion of his junior season, Kurashev signed an Amateur Tryout and joined Chicago's AHL affiliate.
"He's got some dynamic offensive talent," said Rockford veteran Andrew Campbell. "I watched him play at World Juniors this year and, obviously, he was phenomenal for his country and has a bright future ahead of him. It will take him a little time I think to adjust to the pro game here. There are a lot of bigger, older, stronger guys here but he has an awful lot of potential."
"He's a skilled player," added rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju. "He can make things happen. You don't even realize how good he is. I think if he has a good summer he might play in the NHL next year."
While the early scouting reports are good, Kurashev understands he's far from a finished prospect and declares this summer to be an important one for him.
"I want to get better with everything," he said. "My next step is being faster with decisions and more explosive because here at this level you need to be more explosive and fast."
Kurashev is a step ahead of other prospects at his age because he's already defensively responsible, which is a trait that takes some players time to develop. The young forward says the coaches in Quebec have been helping him grow that side of the game, and now it shows.
"He's just strong on pucks," said King. "He reads the play well and he's already responsible in his d-zone. You can see when he comes back-checking he's already looking and he knows where to go. He's a smart hockey player. I think the big thing is just getting used to the pace of the game and the physicality of the game.
"I think they've landed themselves a real good hockey player. He kind of reminds me a little of [David Kampf] with the way he moves out on the ice. He's a strong kid and he's got some good hands, and supposedly he's got some finish too. I see something promising with that kid."
When looking back, it's a fair question to ask how a player with so many tools lasted as long as Kurashev did in the draft.
"You know, that doesn't matter now," he said. "Obviously then, I thought I could go a little higher but it doesn't matter. I'm happy I got drafted by Chicago. Now I just have to prove what I can do. It doesn't matter whether I was taken in the fourth round or first round. You just have to work hard and give everything you can."