See that hill over there in the distance rising through the mist? That’s Boris Katchouk Had a Decent Rookie Season and Will be a Solid NHL Player Hill. A little later today I’m going to hike up and die on it. Why? Because it seems like everyone is losing their mind a bit and thinking he struggled in his first year with the Syracuse Crunch. Following a season in which he had 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists) in 75 games there seems to be a little souring on Katchouk as a prospect for the Lightning.
After a huge jump from 18th to 9th between the 2017 and 2018 Top 25 Under 25 rankings, Kathcouk maintained his position in 2019 following his first year in professional hockey. That’s perfectly fine, however, there seems to be some low-level grumbling about the numbers he put up for the Crunch.
Perhaps it’s the fact that four other rookies on the team (including a defenseman) finished the season with more points than he did or that Taylor Raddysh, a fellow rookie who it seems Katchouk is destined to be partnered with, almost doubled his offensive output. But whatever the reason, it seems some fans were underwhelmed by his season. The 16-game pointless streak he had in February didn’t really help either. [Writer’s note...pointless...Pointless...Point-less, kind of like the Lightning roster right now.]
I’m here to say - Stop it! Boris Katchouk had a perfectly fine rookie season. Was the offensive production there? Definitely not. For a player who put up 202 points (101 goals, 101 assists) in 199 OHL games, the Crunch were more likely looking for a few more goals from him.
However, while they might have expected a few more goals, they didn’t necessarily need it since they had five other players score 20 or more goals for the season. What they did need was someone who played with some defensive responsibility. Katchouk had that in spades last year.
As a 20-year-old he showed remarkable defensive instincts in his first year in the league. He was often on the ice at the end of close games (which did lead to two empty net goals) and was one of the team’s best and most often used penalty killers.
Despite struggling to put the puck in the back of the net, Katchouk never seemed to lose confidence in his ability, even during his long streak without a point. That was something that Coach Groulx noted. Speaking to Lukas Favale in early March, Groulx said:
“If you only look at the numbers, he hasn’t been producing at all, but if you look at games closely and you look at the chances he sets up for his teammates, there’s a lot going on in his game. I think he hangs on to the puck more, skates with it. He’s more patient down low, he believes in himself more, got more confidence with puck down low. I think he’s been on the ice for six or seven chances every game. Not only on the ice, but participating in those chances. I think his offensive game is quietly getting better and it was good to see him producing. I hope he’s going to keep that confidence going and produce and help our team win more games until the end of the year.”
One of the intriguing stats from his first season is that of his eleven goals, nine of them came in the second half of the game with seven of those being scored in the third period. That is some impressive late production.
Also, eight of his eleven goals were scored on the road. Again, eleven goals and one season is too small of a sample size to draw any conclusions about styles of play or predict the future, but it is good to see that he isn’t relying on friendly ice to produce numbers.
His first pro goal came on the road against Binghamton. It might have been an empty net goal, but the thought process of what led to the goal shows instincts that will bode well for his future. Remember, he is a 20-year-old rookie playing in his fourth professional game.
First off, he reads the face-off better than his opponent. As he carries the puck through the zone, two experienced defenders (Colton White and Michael Kapla) are converging on him. Katchouk is on an island with no options to pass. A lot of times, this is an automatic puck off the glass and down the ice or a straight dump down the middle. Instead he banks a pass to himself and outskates his opponents for an easy empty net goal.
That’s a pretty composed move for a young player. While this one did lead to a goal, a lot of the moves he made may not have led to a goal, but they led to a positive outcome for the Crunch. Whether it was keeping the puck in the offensive zone or getting it out of the defensive zone, he worked hard to advance the puck down the ice.
Unfortunately, those types of plays don’t often make the highlight reels so it’s not easy to demonstrate all of the positives that he brought to ice every night. Without some of the advanced stats/time on ice measurements it’s also hard to correlate the eye test.
I will take off my Katchouk-colored glasses for a moment and admit there are some things he needs to do better in the upcoming season. While it’s all well and good to play a 200-foot, defensively sound game, it would be nice to see his offense come around in year two. There are plenty of highlights scattered around the internet from his days in the Soo and with Team Canada that show he has the offensive skill and ingenuity to be a goal scorer and it would be nice to see that translate to the pro level. Perhaps he reigned it in a bit in his first year and focused more on preventing mistakes and turnovers as opposed to driving offense.
For most of the season, he lined up on the left side on a line with fellow rookies Ross Colton and Taylor Raddysh. That may not continue this season. At this point, Alex Volkov is most likely the top line left winger to begin the season. Katchouk will be battling with newcomer Gemel Smith for a spot on the second line. He could slide into the spot vacated by Carter Verhaeghe (yes I’m trying to will Verheaghe onto the Lightning roster by taking it for granted he makes it out of camp) on a line with Mitchell Stephens and Alex Barré-Boulet. Just by association that should be a boost for his offense.
Another boost could come from simply shooting the puck more. In 75 games last season, he had 78 shots (1.04/per game). During his three main seasons with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, he had a whopping 504 shots in 187 games. That breaks out to be about 2.69/per game. His last two seasons, he had 195 and 190 respectively. Even considering the jump in competition from junior hockey to the pros, that is a sharp contrast. Three blueliners on the Crunch had more shots than Katchouk did last season.
There’s no need for him to go full Ovechkin and start launching shots every time the puck gets near him. But even if he just doubled his shot total and kept the same 14.1% shooting percentage, he would be around 22 goals next season.
The Crunch will need a little more goal scoring from him this year. Even with some of their additions, they don’t quite have the firepower they displayed last year and if he can get close to 20 goals, which shouldn’t be unreasonable given his production in junior hockey, it would be a big step in his development.
With the depth the Lightning have in their organization at forward, it could be a couple of years before he has a crack at the NHL. But if he continues his strong defensive play and adds a little offense, once he cracks the line-up in Tampa, he could be there for a long, long time.