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TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Kirby Dach has lofty ambitions for training camp with the Chicago Blackhawks.
“My goal is to be ready right away and hit the ground running at Chicago’s main camp and be a noticeable player there and, hopefully, stick around long enough to be there for the rest of the season,” said Dach, the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. “I have to do my best job to put my best foot forward and force the hand of the coaching staff and the Blackhawks management group to keep me there instead of sending me back to junior.
“I have a lot of work ahead of me and I’m excited for the journey.”
The center has stood out playing for the Blackhawks at the 2019 NHL Prospect Tournament for competing reasons.
In the first game, a 5-4 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings on Friday, Dach (6-foot-4, 197 pounds) was an impact player on nearly every shift. He scored in the first period and had the primary assist on the overtime goal by defenseman Adam Boqvist, the Blackhawks’ first-round pick (No. 8) in the 2018 NHL Draft.
On Saturday, the 18-year-old was in the spotlight for different reasons in a 6-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was a minus-3 and took two penalties in the third period.
The game Saturday started 16 hours after the conclusion of the game Friday, a tough task physically and emotionally for the players.
“He looked like he got a little frustrated, probably fatigued, tired,” said Dave King, who is coaching the Chicago prospects and is the coach of Rockford, the Blackhawks’ American Hockey League affiliate. “They are young. You come into these [games], you are excited, you got jump and then, all of a sudden, it’s like it’s a grind out here. There’s a lot of good hockey players here and it’s not as easy as you think.”
Dach said he knows excuses can’t be part of the formula.
“That’s on me and my preparation to find that level of consistency every night,” he said Saturday. “That has nothing to do whether it is within 24 hours of the previous game. You can’t control the uncontrollable. The only thing you can control is yourself and the outcome you can have. I have to be better at the end of the day.”
He will get another opportunity to impress here Tuesday when the Blackhawks play their final game of the eight-team tournament against the Minnesota Wild in the seventh-place game at 12 p.m. ET. Dach did not play Monday against the St. Louis Blues as the Blackhawks rotated their roster to get other prospects into a game.
Last season with Spokane of the Western Hockey League, Dach had 73 points (25 goals, 48 assists) in 62 games. His ability to drive the net and shed defenders, along with his ability to command the game in the attacking zone, made him an attractive choice after forwards Jack Hughes (New Jersey Devils) and Kaapo Kakko (New York Rangers) were selected No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
“I like the way he moves for a big guy. He’s got great hands, great vision and he can shoot a puck, but the big thing is with that size he has, he can skate,” King said. “Now, you put 10 pounds on him and he has some definition to him and he’s stronger, it’s going to lethal.”
Is it lethal enough to crack a Blackhawks team that is predicted to be on the way back up after missing the playoffs in 2018-19?
That will depend as much on how Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton formulates his roster as it will on Dach’s play.
Dach says he is ready for the challenge.
“As an athlete, you are always kind of confident in your abilities and you are always trying to strive to be at that next level as quickly as you can,” Dach said. “For me, I need to keep working on the basics and make sure that my every-day habits are there to compete at the pro level.
“Everybody has that first level, but you hear it all the time, that it is a second, third and fourth-level League. For a young guy coming in, I’m obviously going to be a sponge and learn from a couple of the older guys that have been there and have had successful careers over the years. For me, it is about learning and being the best player I can be at all times there.”
Main photo courtesy: Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings