Tampa Bay Lightning Top 25 Under 25, #9 Boris Katchouk

Hard-working and motivated, Katchouk’s banner year rockets him up from 18th.

The Top 25 Under 25 is a collaboration by members of the Raw Charge community. Ten writers and 106 readers ranked players under the age of 25 as of September 1, 2017 in the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. Now, we’ll count down each of the 25 players ranked, plus Honorable Mentions.

Often overshadowed by Team Canada teammate and fellow Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Taylor Raddysh, Boris Katchouk quietly had the kind of outstanding year that few in junior hockey could boast. It rocketed his rank in our Top 25 from last year’s 18th to 9th overall, and garnered him inclusion in the OHL’s First All-Star Team, as well as a top-12 finalist position for Kitchener-Waterloo Athlete of the Year.

Last year saw an enormous leap in Katchouk’s production from the year after his draft, where he garnered 64 points in 66 games played. This year he more than conquered the point-per-game pace, earning 85 points in 58 games played, and producing deep into the Soo playoff run with 37 points in 24 games played.

Katchouk holds dual citizenship in Russia and Canada, but was born in Vancouver, and chose to play for Team Canada in last year’s IIHF World Junior U-20 tournament. He played alongside Raddysh and former prospect Brett Howden to defeat Team Sweden for gold.

Going into the 2017-18 season, Katchouk’s biggest assignments were to work on his size and his production. His production increased, and so did his size, up to 205 lbs from last season’s 190. This increase in size aided the physicality of his play last season, exhibited in the most explosive goal of his season — Team Canada’s very first goal in the U-20 tournament, where he created a goal controversy by crashing the net:

Katchouk opened scoring 5:34 into the game, breaking up a pass between Finnish defencemen for a breakaway and putting the puck past Luukkonen with a backhand.

But Katchouk followed the puck into the net and Finnish head coach Jussi Ahokas challenged the play on the grounds that the puck hadn’t yet crossed the goal-line when the Canadian fell into the goal. Officials ruled it a good goal, however.

Respect for women athletes comes naturally to him, in part because Katchouk and his two brothers were brought up as athletes by their mother, Russian Olympic speed skater Elena Toumanova, after the death of Katchouk’s father when he was still a baby. At prospect camp earlier this summer, Katchouk worked hard on skating with Tracy Tutton and Barb Underhill, prompting him to express his respect for the trainers. “Both Tracy and Barb, they’re two people that are highly respected in the skating department,” Katchouk said to NHL.com. “All my skating coaches have been female. I feel they’ve come a long way in the game, and it’s starting to grow a lot more. They’re awesome skaters, so you have to learn from them.”

As well as gaining early tutoring in athletic skills from his mother, Katchouk’s unique style of play might have come from his background in lacrosse. Playing both lacrosse and hockey until he was around 11, Katchouk told the CBC, “It’s all the hard work that lacrosse has brought into my game, always having a nose for finding those small areas. It’s a creative game and I think I’ve brought that into hockey too. Some of the hockey sense I’ve got is from lacrosse, making some of those plays you don’t usually see.” Case in point, a goal Katchouk scored in the IIHF tournament against the US:

The 55-year-old coach pointed to a goal Katchouk scored against the United States on a mid-air deflection of a Jake Bean point shot. That kind of hand-eye co-ordination is invaluable in hockey but an absolute necessity in lacrosse.

One part of Katchouk’s year was less than positive, however. Despite playing deep into the OHL playoffs, Sault St. Marie lost the OHL final to the Hamilton Bulldogs, two games to four. Katchouk got a good workout of his leadership skills, calling out his own team for not playing their best. “We’re letting them win. We’re beating ourselves and that’s how they’re winning,” he told reporters after one of the losses. Practicing accountability after losses is a skill worth its weight in gold, especially if it results in harder work.

Now, at age 20, Katchouk is finally done with his stint in junior hockey, and is ready to join the Syracuse Crunch in the 2018-19 season (unless he pulls a Brayden Point and makes the NHL team out of camp). Our Crunch editor Allovimo predicted his starting position, saying, “I’d guess [he’ll start on the] third line right now. To make it any higher, he’d have to beat out Michael Bournival and Dennis Yan, and I’m not sure that would happen right away, assuming Bournival (who is having off-season surgery) starts here, of course.”

Katchouk signed a three-year ELC with the Lightning organization in 2017. The contract will begin when he plays his first professional season with the Crunch.

Stats Notes (from @loserpoints):

As mentioned above, Katchouk had a great season. He was a top 10 scorer in the OHL and one of the leaders of a good team. Good high-level numbers like that are encouraging and when we dig a little deeper on Katchouk, his numbers only get better. The more you dig, the more he becomes one of the most exciting prospects in the Lightning system.

To start, here is a chart from Prospect Stats that shows how he performed in some key metrics. Being in the green means performing like a top liner. Being in the red means performing like a fourth liner.

Forget top line, Katchouk performed like one of the best players in the OHL in almost ever metric. He played top minutes, he scored goals, he created goals. No matter how you slice his scoring, he was among the best in the league. The only metric that stops him from looking like an elite player in that league is his shots. And considering that, a reasonable question would be whether his goal scoring is sustainable given that he doesn’t seem to be much of a volume shooter.

Fortunately, we have some data that can help us try to answer that question. Prospect Stats provides individual expected goals based on shot locations. If we dig into those numbers, we find something interesting. Katchouk was second in the OHL in expected goals per shot, meaning that he was exceptional at generating dangerous chances. So while he didn’t shoot as much as some other players in the league, the shots he did take were more dangerous.

To illustrate this, we can look at a map of his shots. Again, this is from Prospect Stats.

He lived at the right net front and in the slot taking very few shots from anywhere that wasn’t an optimal location. This suggests that his goal scoring is more about getting good shots than getting lots of shots. Whether he can continue to get those shots as a pro remains to be seen but he certainly has the physical tools to play in those areas at the next level.

If we go one step further and look at his 5v5 production to account for any special teams effects, he starts to look even better. He was fifth in the OHL in estimate primary points per sixty minutes. His team’s goal share improved by 12% when he was on the ice compared to when he was not. That ranks him 16th in the league.

No matter where you look, Katchouk shakes out as being among the best forwards in the OHL. Given his age, he was expected to have a good season. He was bigger, stronger, and more experienced than most of his competition. But even considering that, his numbers still pop and signal strong middle-six forward potential in the NHL and maybe even top-six if he continues to develop on this track.

Katchouk is one of the most well-rounded prospects in the Lightning system. He has the offense, defense, and personality to be a successful player. Syracuse fans should be excited to see him next year and Tampa fans should be keeping an eye out for him in 2019.