Back in 2019, before pandemics and confinements, the Chicago Blackhawks had the third pick in the draft. It would be the first time in years that Chicago had such a high pick, and it was the best chance to bring a talented young player into the fold. Three years later, how do things stand?
Is Kirby Dach becoming the type of player the Chicago Blackhawks had envisioned him to be when he was selected at the #3 spot? At this point, probably not. However, that doesn't mean that he can't become a more significant player, just that he hasn't reached the level management hoped he'd be at by now.
The stakes were high for Dach when he joined the organization as the third overall pick. Maybe too high. The pressure of being expected to become "the guy" for a floundering team and lead them to Stanley Cup glory is a lot to ask of a teenager.
While the psychological side of the game is important, what might Dach need to do in order to reach his potential as a player? Is he the next Jonathan Toews? Probably not. Once he first started playing with the Blackhawks, a lot of people, myself included, thought he was more comparable to Ryan Getzlaf of the Anaheim Ducks, rather than Toews.
There are a couple of very specific discrepancies though between where Dach is now, and where Getzlaf was when the Anaheim captain entered the league. Scoring, and being more of a presence on the ice.
A lot of people have noted Dach's lack of point production. Back in 2005-06 when Getzlaf joined the NHL, stats that people refer to now weren't really being recorded, but points were. Anaheim's 19th overall pick racked up 39 points in 57 games. Compare that to Dach's first campaign, 23 points in 63 games.
The young Blackhawk center didn't do poorly at all, but it might not have been quite what people were hoping for. Dach needs to work on scoring, period because he should be able to excel beyond what he showed in his very first season. He can't really be the #1 center they hoped he'd be if he doesn't start finding the back of the net a bit more often.
After that, comparing the two becomes a bit tricky. Dach broke his wrist, and there was that whole pandemic fueled league-wide shutdown. Getzlaf didn't really have problems like that to deal with. The result has been that Dach's development hasn't been particularly linear.
If things can finally stabilize across the NHL, Dach, who has very recently missed time because he's been sidelined due to Covid-19 protocol, should be in a better position to play more consistently. He hasn't been able to do that since his first season.
The other area where Dach needs to improve is to simply be more of a presence in each game. While the stats aren't completely accurate, or complete for Getzlaf, it's pretty obvious that he has been a difference-maker for Anaheim all over the ice and from the first to the last whistle throughout his career.
If you check the metrics on a site like Hockey Reference or even the NHL's official stats, Dach had a ways to go to reach Getzlaf's level. To be specific I was looking at, face-offs, overall possession metrics, and even shots on goal. Dach needs to improve all of these things and more.
Here's a very precise example of why Dach's evolution as a player has been problematic. When I checked the stats, I was a bit surprised that for this year, Dach has compiled 62 shots in 36 games. That's less than two per game. Just shooting the puck has been an issue, let alone scoring.
To be fair, this is an improvement over his last full season, but so far it's only a minor increase. Counting shots is such a small thing that it's hard to believe this isn't already being addressed, but it can be easily corrected.
To date, Dach has 118 games under his belt. By the end of his second season, Getzlaf had played 139. Not having interruptions during the regular season most certainly makes a difference. Hopefully, once Dach rejoins his teammates he'll just be able to focus on playing and improving his game. This year won't be the year Dach is crowned team MVP, but there are still a lot of opportunities ahead.
Will Dach be the player Chicago hoped he would be? Maybe. There's still time. He's only 21 and has had his first couple of seasons disrupted by a freak injury and a global pandemic. There are clearly things he needs to improve to become to face of the franchise, but he's already a decent NHLer.
The gap between him and a player he could become, such as Ryan Getzlaf is one that can be overcome. There's a fairly clear path towards what Dach needs to get better. Hopefully, once he's back on the ice he is able to pick back up on becoming the player he can be.