The Dach decision: Stay and play for the Blackhawks, or back to Saskatoon?

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Blackhawks center Kirby Dach scored his first NHL goal in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vegas, and whether he sticks with the big club or is sent to juniors for seasoning has yet to be determined.

    Blackhawks center Kirby Dach scored his first NHL goal in Tuesday's overtime loss to Vegas, and whether he sticks with the big club or is sent to juniors for seasoning has yet to be determined. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 10/24/2019 10:41 AM

One-hundred and two.

That's how many goals Alex DeBrincat piled up while dominating the Ontario Hockey League at 16 and 17.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

After the scoring machine was selected 39th overall by the Blackhawks in 2016, he returned to his OHL team in Ohio, prepared to wreak havoc once again.

That's exactly what happened, thanks in large part to DeBrincat's mental toughness. The 5-foot-7 forward didn't want his game to slip just because he was facing slower and often inferior opponents.

"I tried to play as fast as I could to get to that next level with my baseline," said DeBrincat, who poured in an eye-popping 65 goals that season. "Obviously you're going to have some good games, some bad games. I wanted my bad games to still be above other people's good ones."

This brings us to the very interesting case of Kirby Dach.

The Hawks are trying to determine where Dach should spend the majority of this season: with them, or back in juniors with the Saskatoon Blades.

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The No. 3 overall pick of June's draft, the 6-foot-4, 198-pound forward has played in the Hawks' last two games following a three-game conditioning stint in Rockford. If he plays 10 games, he will burn a year of his three-year contract.

Dach hasn't looked at all out of place -- and he even scored the team's only goal in a shootout loss to Vegas Tuesday -- but it's fair to wonder what is best for his long-term development.

The Vegas Golden Knights' Cody Glass was taken sixth in the 2017 NHL draft and sent to the minors twice before earning a promotion
The Vegas Golden Knights' Cody Glass was taken sixth in the 2017 NHL draft and sent to the minors twice before earning a promotion - Associated Press
Which path is correct?

Some top picks -- Connor McDavid, Patrik Laine and Jack Eichel, for example -- are ready to jump into the NHL right away.

With others, it's not so black and white.

A perfect example is Cody Glass, taken sixth overall as the Vegas Golden Knights' first draft pick in 2017. Vegas opted to send Glass back to juniors not once, but twice before promoting him to its NHL roster this season.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Glass was particularly displeased with the decision last year. But after a frustrating campaign in which he lost two months to injury, the Winnipeg native came to Chicago and scored 7 goals in 22 playoff games during the Wolves' run to the AHL's Calder Cup Final.

"The second season was kind of tough," Glass said Tuesday before Vegas' 2-1 victory at the United Center. "Obviously I wanted to stay. I felt like I had a good preseason too.

"But I feel like that just made me more hungry for it; made me want to train harder, skate harder. Ultimately it made me a better player, not rushing me into it."

Coach Gerrard Gallant was blunt when asked why Vegas put such a highly touted prospect in juniors for two straight seasons.

"Well, he wasn't ready," Gallant said. "He's a good hockey player; he's talented enough. But he's a young kid and physically he wasn't strong enough to play in the league. Now he's playing real well. We're real happy with his progress."

Through 11 games, Glass has 2 goals and 4 assists while averaging almost 15 minutes of ice time for the 7-4-0 Golden Knights.

Alex DeBrincat has flourished with the Blackhawks after being sent to the Ontario Hockey League after the NHL draft.
Alex DeBrincat has flourished with the Blackhawks after being sent to the Ontario Hockey League after the NHL draft. - Associated Press
Easing into it

With DeBrincat, it's important to remember he didn't exactly light the world on fire right away. Even with a full training camp -- which Dach did not have due to a concussion -- DeBrincat managed just 1 goal and 4 assists in the Hawks' first 12 games.

The same growing pains are being felt by New Jersey's Jack Hughes and the Rangers' Kaapo Kakko, the No. 1 and 2 picks of last June's draft. Both players have just 1 goal and 1 assist.

"It's a little different going to the next level," DeBrincat said. "Training camp was pretty fast for me. By that third regular-season game -- maybe even before that -- you're used to the speed.

"But timing's still a little bit different. You need to know that some places you have a lot of time and some places you don't. You've got to figure that out and that was my feeling-out process."

Which is exactly what Dach is going through now.

Dach has proved he can establish a net-front presence. He's also been tough in 1-on-1 battles and has shown decent speed while moving from zone to zone.

While the Hawks were nursing a 1-0 lead against the Golden Knights, however, Dach was on the ice for just three shifts in the third period.

It's an understandable strategy, but it's also fair to wonder if this is what's best for him.

Rushing a player in any sport is dangerous and can kill their confidence. Oftentimes it's best to allow them to dominate for a year or two at lower levels as they get bigger, stronger and faster.

"It could go either way," said DeBrincat, who scored 28 goals for the Hawks as a rookie then added 41 last season. "Obviously for me it was good to go back down. I don't think I was ready that year to make the jump.

"But I didn't go third overall, either (smiles). It's different for every situation. I'm sure the coaching staff and everyone else can really get an eye on that and feel that out. But I don't think there's a right or a wrong …

"If you put your mind to it, you can get better back down in juniors. But sometimes it's not worth going back down."

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