Three years ago today, the Blackhawks owned the third overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. They used the pick on center Kirby Dach.
If you go back and read what people said about Dach leading up the draft, it’s understandable why Stan Bowman selected him (which is why I predicted he would be the pick). He was a consensus top-ten overall prospect with a big body and skill; his size and skill were both things Chicago lacked in its prospect group.
The three years since that draft have been an up-and-down journey for Dach. The Blackhawks signed him immediately after the draft and recalled him early in his first professional season. There were growing pains in the 2019-20 season before the pandemic shut the season down in early March.
When the NHL returned to the ice in two bubbles in Canada, Dach was a different player. He dominated the Oilers in the playoffs and looked like the player who had drawn comparisons to Ryan Getzlaf before the draft.
With the following season delayed because of COVID, the Blackhawks allowed Dach to participate in the World Junior Championship. He was named captain for Canada and looked like he was ready to lead, but a wrist injury suffered in a warm-up game against Russia ended his tournament – and probably should have cost him a sophomore season in the NHL.
But the Blackhawks rushed him back to limited success; Jonathan Toews wasn’t with the team dealing with his own health issues that season and Chicago didn’t have center depth.
This past season Dach struggled. There’s no sugar-coating his performance. And, as we wrote previously about the Blackhawks’ center questions this summer, the organization backed away from him being a center as the season progressed.
Now, Dach’s a restricted free agent with enormous question marks about his long-term viability at the NHL level. Blackhawks fans love pointing out the mistakes of the front office, and the Dach selection is no exception. Fans look at centers Alex Turcotte, Dylan Cozens and Trevor Zegras as “better” options to help the Blackhawks ’offense from the 2019 draft class.
But the Blackhawks selected Dach. So… now what?
The new front office has committed itself (in words thus far) to developing prospects more intentionally than the previous regime; that shouldn’t be hard when you look at Bowman’s track record in the draft. The organization wasted the first three seasons of Dach’s career and is now looking for a reset on what could still be a good NHL career.
But the Blackhawks need to put him in a position to succeed if they’re going to see returns from his play worthy of where they drafted him. And his next contract should be written as not only a response to his struggles in the first three years of his career, but their plan for his future.
Is Dach a top-line center in the NHL? He’ll need to get better at the dot to earn that role and stay there.
Is Dach a top-six wing? It’s possible that his struggles in the faceoff circle force a move to the wing, where he could compliment another center (Lukas Reichel? Jonathan Toews?) With his size and playmaking ability.
We need to see the guy who was dominant in the bubble against Edmonton two years ago more often moving forward – whether it’s at center or on the wing. And Dach’s development curve from this point forward should be a focal point for the new front office… if they choose to re-sign him this summer.
Right now, we’re giving the selection of Dach an Incomplete in the grade book. What do you think? Vote in our Twitter poll!