Lots of work to do if Dach is to join the league’s top flight
When the Blackhawks drafted Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006, they felt like they were adding special talent and someone who would hopefully put an end to the franchise’s laughing stock image.
Mission accomplished – several times.
Fifteen years later, many fans are wondering if Kirby Dach – also picked third overall by the Hawks – will become a center that will make a difference and may also lead to a resurgence of this SEO organization.
In the case of Dach, the jury is decidedly absent.
Let’s start with the obvious: when a player is drafted in the top three, expectations are very high. A few players run out of steam or are flat busts, but most go on to become stars – or at least extremely productive players.
Among the forwards, a few examples from 2010-18 include Taylor Hall, Tyler Seguin, Gabriel Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov, Leon Draisaitl, Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Patrik Laine and Andrei Svechnikov.
Will Dach ever be mentioned in the same sentence with them?
It is possible, but it has to show a lot more than what we have seen in just under two and a half years.
Let’s start by giving Dach a little slack. An injury kept him out of his first all-important NHL training camp in 2019, slowing his progress. Dach went on to have a relatively successful rookie campaign scoring 8 goals and distributing 15 assists in 64 games.
The next speed bump came at the World Juniors, when Dach broke his wrist while playing for Team Canada. He is back, but only played 18 games last season from March 27 to May 3.
This year – finally – Dach arrived at training camp healthy and ready to take a quantum leap.
But it did not happen.
In 30 games, the 6-foot-4, 197-pound center scored 5 goals and 8 assists, averaged 1.73 shots on goal and won only 96 of 294 face-offs. This winning percentage of 32 , 7 ranks dead last among 158 players who made 100 or more draws.
So how does Dach join the crème de la crème of the league? By working his tail to improve in almost every facet of the game:
• First and foremost, Dach must complete A-grade opportunities. MacKinnon, McDavid, Matthews, Laine, Svechnikov and their teammates Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat often don’t let these chances pass up for nothing. It is imperative that Dach find a way to follow in their footsteps.
• Then get to work on the faceoffs. When a professional golfer loses his touch on the greens, he spends hours and hours making 3, 4 and 5 foot putts until they become automatic. Same thing here. Take 50, 75, 100 a day. See how much Toews can impart his wisdom. Spend time with Coach Yanic Perreault when possible. Eventually he will see the results.
• Interim coach Derek King recently explained that Dach has to be better off the puck. It’s the same criticism Dylan Strome (also a former No. 3 overall pick) received from King and former coach Jeremy Colliton. Players who cannot understand this will never join the ranks of the elite. “Look, he’s going to be in this organization for a while, hopefully, because he’s a good hockey player,” King said. “But he has to learn to play without that puck. You might as well do it now (and) not wait until your late twenties.
• Dach’s play along the boards could also be better. A lot of it comes down to adding muscle, so it’s imperative that Dach hits the weight room in the next few seasons.
Now here’s the big question: How coachable is Dach and does he have the work ethic to really grow his game?
Over the decades, Chicagoans have been fortunate enough to see some of the best athletes of all time: Hawks’ Mikita, Hull, Kane and Toews; the Bears’ Payton, Sayers and Singletary; the Bulls Jordan, Pippen and Sloan; the Cubs’ Sandberg and Ron Santo; and Frank Thomas of the White Sox.
None rested on their laurels or their draft position. They all set to work to become the generational talents of their time.
Soon we’ll see if Dach – who has the physical gifts to become a productive player – has the same drive.
“It’s a tough position – in the middle – especially for a youngster like that,” King said. “He’s so used to coasting and using his skills. But the skills won’t get you far.
“You have to learn to play when you don’t have the puck. These are just small things. And it can be done because it has nothing to do with skill. …
“You just have to want to do it.”