Plenty of work to be done if Dach wants to join league's elite

                                                                                                                                                                                                   
  • Carolina Hurricanes center Derek Stepan (18) and Blackhawks center Kirby Dach (77) tumble to the ice as they go for the puck Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, in Raleigh, N.C. Dach has some work to do if he wants to live up to the potential of his draft slot.

    Carolina Hurricanes center Derek Stepan (18) and Blackhawks center Kirby Dach (77) tumble to the ice as they go for the puck Friday, Oct. 29, 2021, in Raleigh, N.C. Dach has some work to do if he wants to live up to the potential of his draft slot. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 12/26/2021 9:40 PM

When the Blackhawks drafted Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006, they had a good feeling they were adding a special talent and someone who, hopefully, would end the franchise's laughingstock image.

Mission accomplished -- many times over.

 

Fifteen years later many fans are wondering if Kirby Dach -- also chosen third overall by the Hawks -- will develop into a difference-making center who can also lead a resurgence for this listing organization.

In Dach's case, the jury is most decidedly out.

Let's start with the obvious: When a player is drafted in the top three, expectations are sky high. A few players fizzle out or are flat-out busts, but most become stars -- or at least extremely productive players.

Among forwards, some 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's possible, but he needs to show a lot more than what we've seen in just under 2½ years.

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Let's start by cutting Dach some slack. An injury kept him away from his all-important first NHL training camp in 2019, thus slowing his progress. Dach went on to have a relatively successful rookie campaign by scoring 8 goals and dishing out 15 assists in 64 games.

The next speed bump came at World Juniors, when Dach broke his wrist while playing for Team Canada. He worked his way back, but played in just 18 games last season from March 27 to May 3.

This year -- finally -- Dach arrived at training camp healthy and ready to make a quantum leap.

But that has not happened.

In 30 games, the 6-foot-4, 197-pound center has 5 goals and 8 assists, is averaging a paltry 1.73 shots on goal and has prevailed in just 96 of 294 faceoffs. That win percentage of 32.7 ranks dead last among the 158 players who have taken 100 or more draws.

So how does Dach join the league's cream of the crop? By working his tail off to improve in almost every facet of the game:

• First and foremost, Dach needs to finish off Grade A opportunities. MacKinnon, McDavid, Matthews, Laine, Svechnikov and teammates Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat don't often let these chances go for naught. It's imperative that Dach figures out a way to follow in their footsteps.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Next, get to work on faceoffs. When a professional golfer loses his touch on the greens, he spends hours and hours rolling in 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 whenever possible. Eventually, he will see the results.

• Interim coach Derek King recently talked about how Dach needs to be better without the puck. This is the same criticism Dylan Strome (also a former No. 3 overall pick) has received from King and former coach Jeremy Colliton. Players who can't figure this out will never join the ranks of the elite. "Listen, he's going to be in this organization for a while, hopefully, because he's a good hockey player," King said. "But he's got to learn how to play without that puck. Might as well do it now (and) not wait until your later 20s."

• Dach's play along the boards could be better as well. A lot of this boils down to adding muscle, so it's imperative that Dach hits the weight room in the upcoming offseasons.

Now, here's the big question: How coachable is Dach and does he have the work ethic to truly grow his game?

Over the decades, Chicagoans have been blessed to watch some of the best athletes of all time: The 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 the White Sox's Frank Thomas.

None rested on their laurels or draft position. They all put in the work to become generational talents of their time.

Soon enough we will see if Dach -- who has the physical gifts to become a productive player -- has the same drive.

"It's a tough position -- center -- especially for a young guy like that," King said. "He's so used to just freewheeling and going and using his skill. But skill will only take you so far.

"You got to learn to play when you don't have the puck. It's just the little things. And it can be done because it has nothing to do with skill. ...

"You just got to want to do it."

More postponements:

Three additional games have been postponed across the league for COVID-related reasons, including the Blackhawks' Tuesday game vs. Columbus. Wednesday matchups between Pittsburgh-Toronto and Boston-Ottawa have also been postponed.

Taxi squads return:

The NHL is emerging from an extended holiday break with taxi squads and other roster revisions, a move made to guard against more disruptions to the season amid more players and coaches going into COVID-19 protocol Sunday.

Each team will be allowed to have a taxi squad of up to six players and to make emergency recalls from the minors if COVID-19 absences would cause anyone to play without a full lineup. Taxi squads, which were used during the shortened 2021 season, are set to be in effect until at least the All-Star break in early February.

Players on the taxi squad will count as being in the minors for cap purposes. They can be there for a maximum of 20 days.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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