After making the Blackhawks roster straight out of training camp, Kirby Dach turned quite a few heads. He kept this trend going throughout an impressive rookie season, as well as throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
If you flashback to June 21, 2019, you might remember being frustrated. The Chicago Blackhawks had just used the 3rd overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft to select Kirby Dach, a 6’4 forward who played for the Saskatchewan Blades of the WHL. Why would Chicago use this pick to draft another center after Dylan Strome had just had a breakout season in his debut season with Chicago?
Now over a year later, many of us could not imagine the Blackhawks without Dach on the roster. Dach made an impact as soon as he was inserted into the lineup in October, as he was sidelined at the beginning of the season due to a concussion he sustained in a prospects game in September. He tallied his first NHL goal in only his second game, tallying the Hawks lone goal in a 2-1 shootout loss to Vegas on October 22nd.
From that night and throughout the rest of the season, Dach proved that he belonged in the NHL. He went on to finish the season with 8 goals and 15 assists for a total of 23 points in his rookie campaign. This total surpassed #1 overall pick Jack Hughes’s production and was equivalent to what #2 overall pick Kaapo Kakko was able to generate.
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Kirby Dach Information:
Contract: 3 Year Entry-Level Deal through 2022-23 Season ($925,000 AAV)
Games Played: 64 Regular Season; 9 Postseason
Goals: 8 Regular Season; 1 Postseason
Assists: 15 Regular Season; 5 Postseason
Points: 23 Regular Season; 6 Postseason
Season Rating: A-
Kirby played about as well as anybody could have hoped for this season. In the regular season, he was very noticeable in games. Even though he was unable to get on the scoresheet consistently, he was able to generate quite a few scoring chances every night the Hawks played. He ripped off a 5 game point streak twice this season, as he had one in November and the other in January.
After the regular season was cut short due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Dach continued to train by himself and strived to elevate his game to the next level. He went to the weight room to put on more muscle and he bulked up quite a bit. Once hockey resumed, the bigger frame paid off for the youngster in a big way.
In the Stanley Cup Qualifiers series against Edmonton, Dach was laying the body more than ever. He had 13 hits in the 9 games he played in the playoffs, equivalating to an average of 1.44 hits per game. When you compare that to the 33 hits he tallied in the 64 games (.516 hits/game) during the regular season, it is quite a substantial difference. This shows a sign that Dach’s confidence improved a lot throughout the work stoppage.
This new aggressive style also helped his offensive production in the playoffs. Kirby led Chicago’s forwards in the Time on Ice category in the postseason, averaging a whopping 19 minutes and 24 seconds per game. During his playoff debut, he had a point per game average of .667 which nearly doubled his regular-season output of .36 PPG.
He played well during the series against the Vegas Golden Knights that even Knights’ head coach Peter DeBoer took notice. “He’s one guy that has caught my eye here,” said DeBoer. “In the live games I’ve watched of other teams, I thought that he’s a kid that used the four months and came back and really looks like a different player.” Clearly, Kirby looks to be on the rise and a staple on the Blackhawks for years to come.
Fit with the Blackhawks:
It’s really clear that Dach is progressing at a rapid pace. This could be perfect timing for the Blackhawks and their current cap situation. Since Strome is a free agent in the upcoming offseason, Kirby’s play could elevate himself to the second-line center role, should the Hawks choose to let Strome walk.
Strome is projected to be asking around $5-6 million per season, and if Dach is ready for that big of a role, it might be the time that the Hawks decide to let Strome go. Kirby’s level of play will allow Chicago to save that money and use it to improve the roster elsewhere.
With Jonathan Toews getting older, don’t be surprised if Kirby even steps up into the #1 center role in a few years either. When Toews decides to hang them up, I could certainly see Kirby following in Jonathan’s footsteps and being named the team captain, especially if he keeps up his current work ethic.
For now, we will have to wait and see what the young Canadian has in store for us next season. If his playoff performance was any indication, then I cannot wait to see how Dach will perform in the future.