Can Kirby Dach make it with the Blackhawks all season?
When the Blackhawks drafted Kirby Dach with the third overall pick last June, they did so with the hopes that he will become a franchise-altering talent.
In the long term, that means plenty of 30-goal, 80-point seasons that lead to postseason berths and perhaps more Stanley Cup titles.
But what about the short term? As in this season?
Is this 18-year-old Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta native ready for the bright lights of the NHL now? Can he help this Blackhawks team this season?
It's a question we've been asking since training camp began almost a month ago; one that we are no closer to getting an answer to with the home opener just two days away.
The unfortunate timing of Dach's concussion, which he suffered during the Traverse City prospect tournament, meant he was unable to practice with his teammates during camp.
That meant no drills. No on-ice systems work. No chance to build chemistry and confidence with potential linemates. And worst of all -- no preseason games.
It has presented quite a conundrum for coach Jeremy Colliton, GM Stan Bowman and the rest of the Hawks' brass.
"Training camp would have been a perfect opportunity for him to slowly ramp up and get used to the level that he's going to need to be at to help us," Colliton said Monday after the Hawks conducted their first practice in Chicago since returning from a 4-3 season-opening loss to Philadelphia in Prague last week. "So we're just trying to make the best of it as far as the practice reps but also the reps after practice -- doing 1-on-1s, doing battles and challenging him defensively."
Dach began practicing with the team when they arrived in Germany on September 27. He won't be in the lineup against San Jose on Thursday, but it sounds like he might play soon after.
Asked what kind of role he envisions for Dach, the Colliton said: "Every guy you put in a situation to succeed. He's a good player. I guess we'll see when we get him in, but I don't foresee having to protect him."
The Hawks can be somewhat patient in making up their minds with Dach. He won't burn a year of his three-year, entry-level contract until he plays in 10 games.
If they decide he's not ready, the Hawks would send him back to play with his junior team, the Saskatoon Blades.
Dach, who was surrounded by reporters at his Fifth Third Arena locker after practice Monday, could really strengthen the Hawks down the middle. Putting his 6-foot-4 frame between two linemates like Dominik Kubalik and Brandon Saad is enough to make some coaches' mouths drool.
And Dach plans to do everything humanly possible to make that happen.
"It's obviously not my decision to say if I want to be out there with the guys playing in games," Dach said. "But it's my job to force the hand of the coaching staff (and) the management to make that decision hard.
"So I've just got to keep coming to the rink every day and work hard."
So can he do it?
Patrick Kane certainly believes so.
"You see a lot of plays out there where he's holding the puck, using his reach, putting it around guys and getting it back," Kane said. "So he's got ability that way.
"It'll probably be more of a test to go right into a regular-season game for him, especially without preseason games.
"But some guys can do that and I think he's physically mature enough where he can jump in and probably feel more comfortable than other guys would at that age. So we'll see what happens."