Now that prospect camp has concluded, and the convention has come and gone, Blackhawks fans witnessed the hype around third overall pick Kirby Dach, and why the Blackhawks chose the forward at number three in the 2019 NHL Draft.
There is a lot of hope amongst the fanbase that Kirby Dach is going to be a staple on the Blackhawks roster for the next 15 years. He's big, powerful (despite being only 18 years old), and can make his presence felt all over the ice. He towered over opponents in the WHL and did the same at prospect camp just a couple weeks ago.
Everyone is wondering what Dach will do this season. Is he going to make the team full-time? Is he going to get a short tryout before the deadline for his contract to slide passes? Does he play the whole year in Saskatoon with the Blades? We are going to analyze each of these scenarios, as well as what the long-term future looks like for the young pivot.
Dach Makes the Team
This season holds a plethora of options for the number three pick. He can make an impact on the parent club for the entire season if he’s ready. Although unlikely, he could prove to be an excellent piece for the Blackhawks in their middle six. The complexity around Dach remaining with the Blackhawks lies in the ability to play him in favorable situations.
In 2013, the Blackhawks re-called a young, promising forward named Brandon Saad. Saad was young, still learning, and had only spent a half-season in the AHL. In order to maximize Saad's ability on a deep Hawks team, Coach Joel Quenneville decided to play the youngster with two future Hall-of-Famers, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa. Playing with these outer-worldly players allowed Saad to succeed albeit being very young and inexperienced. The Blackhawks could take this same approach with Dach.
The only issue with this theory is that he would certainly play the wing, and, assuming the roster is what it is as of today on opening night, there isn't a ton of space for the young center to play on a wing in the top six. However, if Dach forces the issue, he may be able to play a center role for this team and further the depth at the forward position for this much improved Blackhawks team.
If he forces the issue, then the team arguably has three major lines this season: the top line centered by Jonathan Toews, the second line likely featuring the Dylan Strome/Alex DeBrincat combination, and a third line featuring Dach. However, it would take a few impact players playing on Dach’s line to be successful.
Dach's Mini Tryout
This scenario is likely the most probable scenario of the three we will examine. A nine-game tryout will give Dach the opportunity to get his feet wet in the NHL before going back to Saskatoon and dominating the WHL competition.
Some people may wonder why he would only play nine games before being sent back to the WHL. Well, there is a rule in place that allows Dach's contract to "slide" if he doesn't play ten or more games this season. That means, if he is back in Saskatoon before game ten, the Blackhawks receive an additional year of Dach's service on his entry-level contract. It may be a bit of a loophole, but this option can benefit both parties.
The Blackhawks will benefit because they receive that extra year of Dach's entry-level deal. There is little doubt that Dach is going to be an impact player at the next level, so it is likely his second contract will be a pricey one. If he deserves it, it won't be an issue, but it is certainly something that the Blackhawks have in mind.
Dach will benefit from his nine-game tryout because he gets a taste of the NHL. It allows Dach to ease into the professional game, then go back to the WHL and dominate even more than he did in his draft year. The number one intangible Dach receives from dominating his WHL peers is confidence. Confidence is important at the professional level and there is zero doubt in anyone's mind that Dach beating up on the WHL competition will only benefit him and the Blackhawks in the long run.
If Dach proves he's ready for the NHL this season, then the Blackhawks should let him stay. However, the law of probabilities points to this option we just analyzed, with Dach returning to the WHL after his brief tryout. Dach will be allowed to further develop before becoming a staple on the NHL roster for the Blackhawks.
Back to Saskatoon We Go...
Kirby Dach could very well return to his WHL club, the Saskatoon Blades, for the entire 2019-2020 season. If this scenario becomes reality, it means Dach still needs another year of development and did not stand out as “NHL ready” in camp. He will have every opportunity to make the roster, but there is nothing wrong with Dach returning to the WHL.
As mentioned before, Dach would be able to establish confidence if he returns to Saskatoon and does even better than he did in his draft year. He could have a chance to lead the Blades on a WHL championship run, or he could sign a Professional Tryout Contract (PTO) and play some games in Rockford if the Blades don't go on said deep run. Either way, he will be able to succeed in the WHL.
The opportunity Dach would have with the Blades, that he wouldn't have in Chicago, is the chance to play in every situation. In Saskatoon, he will play the powerplay, the penalty kill, and five-on-five. Dach will be on the ice at all times with the Blades. With the Blackhawks, Dach may not see much powerplay time, likely wouldn't see any penalty kill and would play only against favorable competition at five-on-five. In theory, it may be more beneficial if Dach returns to the WHL.
In the Future....
There is no denying what Kirby Dach is going to bring in the future. He displayed his talent at the prospect camp, overpowering every other attendee at camp. Dach is setting himself up to be a fixture for the Blackhawks for the next decade, plus. Without a doubt, he can be an impact player and wear the Indian-head sweater for his entire career, just as Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are setting themselves up to do.
What will this season look like for Kirby Dach? Only time will tell. The Traverse City prospect tournament is in early September and preseason opens later in the month. As hockey inches closer, the Blackhawks will assess where Dach is in his development, and make a decision on what Dach will do this year. But, no matter what happens, the league better be ready for the young center to be a force for a long time in Chicago.
This season will be a big opportunity for Kirby Dach. If he can force the hand of Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks will likely leave Dach up with the team if he is, in fact, ready. Dach could benefit greatly from playing full time on the roster this year. As a fan, I would love to see Dach up this year and contribute. However, I want the Blackhawks to do what's right for his development.
If Dach is ready and shows that he is, leave him up and play him with players that will help him succeed. I think of players such as Brandon Saad and Andrew Shaw that will allow Dach to not own the responsibility of being a grinder. He can play in more offensive situations and build confidence as he adapts to the NHL game.
If Dach is not ready, let him still have his tryout. It won't hurt either side at this point for Dach to play nine games with the Blackhawks. Once he has a taste of the pro game and clear expectations of areas that require improvement, he can go back to the WHL and dominate while improving in those areas identified by the Blackhawks.
After watching Dach play with Team Canada in game one of the World Juniors Summer Showcase, there is no denying what Dach will bring to the table. Check out the three plays below:
The excellent backhand pass out in front, along with his backdoor goal, show that Dach is going to be a nightmare in front of opposing netminders. He has the size and hands to make a living in the low slot.
His speed is showed off on the entry play. A lot of scouts questioned Dach’s straight-line speed and if he could be an elite skater in the NHL. Although only one play, Dach shows off impressive straight-line speed on the zone entry.
Kirby Dach is going to be a treat to watch. Now it's time to see where he is in his development as he prepares for a long NHL career.
Featured Photo: Charles Rex Arbogast/AP Photo