The plot thickens for 22-year old Boris Katchouk, who will be heading into his third AHL season once the league finally resumes play. Though he managed to up his point production in less games last season, Katchouk was still out-produced by fellow second-year pros Alex Barre-Boulet, Taylor Raddysh and Ross Colton.
Katchouk landed on this year’s Top 25 Under 25 voting at 11th overall, slipping back a couple of spots from last year.
The thing is, offensive production only tells one, small bit of the story with Katchouk. In fact, if you look at the underlying numbers, Katchouk might’ve had a better season than you think. There’s no touching what Barre-Boulet did last season with the Crunch, but if you put him aside for a moment, Katchouk actually out-produced both Raddysh and Colton when it came to even-strength primary points.
One big criticism of Katchouk’s game in his first AHL season was that he wasn’t shooting the puck enough. He managed to increase his shooting efficiency last season, going from 56% of shots on goal in his rookie year to 63% this past season. And while he could still benefit from shooting the puck in more high-danger areas, the fact that Katchouk is still able to put the puck on goal from the outside is encouraging.
That being said, his shot selection needs improving. His release is a lot slower than Raddysh’s and the majority of shots he does take are from low-danger areas. Katchouk will often slow and stop to adjust the angle of his shot before taking it. Often, it seemed like he was waiting to see if a passing lane would open up, and as he did that, those prime shooting opportunities would disappear. With that being said, his release seems a lot faster when he’s receiving pucks from teammates, but when he’s the one with sole possession, there seems to be a bit of hesitation on his part as to what to do with it.
Other than shooting, the other area that remains a cause for concern is Katchouk’s skating. While he is undoubtedly faster than he once was, his acceleration still isn’t strong enough to get him to the right areas of the ice in time. He can struggle with the pace of play in the AHL at times, which is concerning considering how much faster the NHL is. Katchouk can fly when he reaches his top speed, it just takes him a while to get there, and he can be left behind the play.
However, Katchouk took major steps in his defensive growth last season. He’s efficient in the corners and willing to engage in battles to effectively retrieve pucks. As Katchouk engages in battles, his focus is on getting the puck out with his stick, not using his body to trap players against the boards. He almost always comes out with the puck, regardless of which end of the ice the battle was in.
Katchouk is also very effective in breaking up incoming rushes, primarily using his stick well to read and disrupt passing plays. Once he’s done that, Katchouk won’t hesitate to take the puck back down the ice or pass off to another teammate, and that transition is pretty seamless. He’s very adept at finding open teammates in the neutral zone, and Katchouk is also comfortable breaking the puck out himself.
Ultimately, time will tell whether or not Katchouk finally gets a look at the NHL this season. The fact that there’s no concrete timeline for the NHL to resume play yet (January 1st is seeming less and less likely) doesn’t help. However, this would typically be his make or break season. He’s already been passed over by Mitchell Stephens and Mathieu Joseph, and as far as full-time Crunch members go, Katchouk has also likely been passed by Barre-Boulet and Colton when it comes to potential call-ups next season.
Katchouk will be a restricted free agent after 2021. That makes his play this season critical — the Lightning drafted Katchouk for a reason, and he wouldn’t still be within the organization if they didn’t have a plan in place. However, it would seem like time is running out for him to make the Lightning.
The Lightning haven’t closed the book on Katchouk yet, but I’d be concerned if he wasn’t called up at all this season. He took several encouraging steps this past season, but that has to continue. His development can’t stagnate — eventually, Katchouk is going to have to prove he can score consistently at the AHL level. If he can do that and maintain his effective defensive play, a stint with the Lightning isn’t out of the question next year. But it’s up to Katchouk to prove he deserves a shot.
Statistics and information from Elite Prospects, Pick224.com, and InStat Hockey.