“I want to flourish. Kirby Dach finally gets continuity – and a chance to break out

Kirby Dach learned a lot about water at his family’s Lake House in northern Alberta. It’s his sanctuary, his weekend hangout to take a break from training sessions during the offseason, a place to reunite with his parents, brother and sister.

It was also there that he developed his passion for water sports, recently lake surfing but especially water skiing, which he inherited from his mother Hilary, who was an avid lover growing up.

When Dach first tried it, he was attacking the skis and trying to get up instantly instead of letting the boat and water do the work.

« I was trying to get up faster, and I would end up putting my boot in the water and falling head first, » he said. « So I learned to lean back. You get pulled into the water a bit, but you suck it in for a few seconds, and once you’re up, you’re up.

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Do you feel the metaphor coming like a wave on the horizon? It’s too easy, right?

Here’s a promising young center, drafted third overall by the Chicago Blackhawks in 2019, who has experienced unusually choppy waters so far in his career, but has yet to realize the full potential oozing from his frame. 6 feet 4 inches and 197 pounds. But with a bit of hindsight, hard work and positivity, rolling with the change around him, he could finally stand on his feet.

No one could blame Dach if he raised his hands and said, « Are you kidding me? when evaluating the first three years of his NHL career. They were, to say the least, cursed.

Racking up assists with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL in the seasons leading up to his draft year, Dach earned obvious comparisons to Joe Thornton thanks to a lanky frame, excellent hockey sense and passing skills, and the ability to make others around him better. With an NHL body even at 18, Dach jumped straight into the NHL in 2019-20 as a teenager.

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A concussion in training camp delayed the start of his season, but he managed to play 64 games as a rookie, averaging 14:23 of ice time and recording 23 points. So? The COVID-19 pandemic hit, ending the NHL season before it ended in March 2020. When the bubble tournament came around, Dach had six points in nine postseason games, saw himself allowed more than 19 minutes a night and helped the Hawks upset the Edmonton Oilers. in the play-in round. Just before the next season, which only started in January 2021? A broken wrist for Dach at the World Junior Championship, costing him the tournament and 34 NHL games, halting the momentum he generated as a rookie, limiting him to 10 games in the 48-game schedule after worsening the injury again at the end of the campaign. He also missed having a crucial on-ice mentor and Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews to work with in 2020-21, as Toews missed the entire season with a mysterious illness known as chronic immune response syndrome.

In the offseason after 2020-21 and leading into 2021-22? Chaos in the Blackhawks organization following news of Kyle Beach’s claims he was sexually assaulted by video coach Brad Aldrich. The cover-up cost general manager Stan Bowman his job. At the start of the 2021-22 season, the struggling Blackhawks, who had spent heavily to upgrade this summer with defenseman Seth Jones and goaltender Marc-André Fleury, fired coach Jeremy Colliton and replaced him. by acting bench chief Derek King. To top it off, Dach missed time in 2021-22 by landing in COVID protocol and later spraining his shoulder.

Hush. If you’re keeping score: concussion, broken wrist, sprained shoulder, new coach, new GM, pandemic. It’s no wonder that Dach, after three seasons in his career, has only recorded 152 games and is yet to score nine goals or 26 points in a season. He endured constant turbulence around him.

Talk to Daily face-to-face this week, Dach played down the bad luck and turmoil, said it was his job as an athlete to avoid focusing on organizational changes, but almost anyone who sees the situation from afar would agree that he has received several bad hands so far in his career. We barely had a clue who he is as an NHL player.

That’s why the trade to the Montreal Canadiens, made shortly before the first pick of the 2022 NHL Draft and which influenced general manager Kent Hughes’ decision to trade center Shane Wright to left winger Juraj Slafkovsky, is so exciting for Dach. It’s a chance to reset a career that is still full of promise considering he’s only 21.

« I was actually on my way to the rink, I was just arriving and about to get my hockey bag out when I got a call from (Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson), and he pretty much said, ‘We’re transferring you to Montreal, it’s going to be a good opportunity for you,’ Dach said. “I spoke to him a little, and the first feeling is a shock of shells. But it’s a good change. I’m excited for the change. Of course, it’s sad to leave Chicago. I have a house there. I feel confident and I love the city, but I’m excited for Montreal. I would love to play in this rink. They have so much history there in the team, and the coaching staff, the management, the general management of the team, it’s quite exciting.

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Dach, currently a restricted free agent but expected to sign in the coming days or weeks, will join the Canadiens after the third-worst finish in their 104-season history, with their rebuild still on the ground floor. He is expected to be a crucial part of that, eventually centering a line in the top six to complete Nick Suzuki. Dach is looking forward to getting started and, more specifically, to starting to work more closely with head coach Martin St. Louis, who made the team more competitive in 2021-22 as the interim replacement for Dominique Ducharme and has got the full-time gig this offseason.

« I’ve spoken to him a few times, and it’s been nothing but positive things coming from Marty, » Dach said. « He’s super enthusiastic and I’m really looking forward to meeting him at camp and going there and working with him 1 on 1. It’s going to be a treat for sure. He’s played a lot of NHL games and has a tons of experience, so learning from a guy like him every day is going to be awesome.

We’ve already seen change day and night in the Cole Caufield first-round game in 2019 from when St. Louis took over. Caufield had one goal and 15 points in 30 games under Ducharme and 22 goals and 35 points in 37 games under St. Louis. Suzuki’s game also took off under St. Louis. Will it have the same effect on Dach? It’s too early to tell, but Dach knows exactly what part of his game he wants to improve.

« Just my shot, my shot, my goal, » he said. « I feel like I have chances, but sometimes I don’t take them. But I worked on it a lot. I hope to implement it in my game and become more of a dual threat player.

So with any luck – and more importantly, some continuity for change – we could finally see Dach rise in 2021-22, as he has done so many times while skiing on the lake.

« I just want to get better, get better every day, take the next step in this development of my game, really become a professional hockey player. »

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