After three seasons where things didn’t go according to plan for Kirby Dach’s development, Chicago decided it was time to move on as they moved him to Montreal at the draft. Will the Habs be able to unlock his potential this season?
Having recovered from the wrist injury that cost him most of his sophomore year and the departure of Pius Suter to Detroit in free agency, Dach entered training camp behind Jonathan Toews as Chicago’s second centre. The opportunity for him to cement himself as part of their long-term plans was there for the taking. Clearly, he didn’t take it.
Playing time wasn’t an issue in the early going as through his first 20 games, he was averaging just shy of 20 minutes a night. That’s top-line minutes on many teams. But it didn’t result in a big jump in production as he managed just three goals and five assists over that stretch. That wasn’t terrible but it’s fair to say expectations were higher.
Following the early-season coaching change, Dach started to see his minutes drop with Dylan Strome getting a bigger role down the middle. That didn’t help Dach’s confidence. Strome got better down the stretch and actually became a pretty good contributor in the second half. That really didn’t help Dach’s confidence. From February on, his playing time dipped by more than three minutes a game and his production slipped as well with just 11 points in that 28-game stretch.
In other words, things didn’t start well, end well, or go well in between. Offensive plays often died on his stick and while he certainly took some promising strides defensively, the Blackhawks were definitely counting on much more than they got from him.
Season Stats: 70 games, 9 goals, 17 assists, 26 points, -18 rating, 43 PIMS, 2 PPG, 0 GWG, 116 shots, 32.8% faceoffs, 18:03 ATOI
(The stats for 2019-20 and 2020-21 have been extrapolated to an 82-game rate.)
Considering that Montreal gave up Alexander Romanov and a pair of draft picks to get Dach, the easy thing to think is that he’d have a big role fairly quickly. The fact he spent a lot of time in the top six in Chicago last season (including on the top line) would only seem to cement that.
I’m not so sure he’s going to have that big of a role this season, however. It’s possible that he starts on the third line, especially with the way Christian Dvorak finished the season. On top of that, with his struggles at the faceoff dot, it wouldn’t be entirely shocking if he saw some time on the wing as well or at least is partnered up with another centre to help take some of the pressure off on that front. That’s not to say he won’t see time in the top six – he almost certainly will – but don’t be surprised if he’s on the third line with some regularity.
With the Blackhawks, Dach got thrown into the deep end fairly quickly. The fact he got a four-year commitment tells me that management is okay with the Habs taking a step back with him and easing him in with a bit of a smaller role. I could see a target ATOI for him checking in around 16 minutes a night which would be more than two minutes below his average for the last two seasons.
From a special teams perspective, I’m not sure he’ll see a lot of power play time. He could split time with Dvorak on the second unit but Dvorak has a better track record on the man advantage. Dach saw some time shorthanded last season and that’s an area I could see them trying to use him in a bit as well. If he could take some penalty killing pressure off Nick Suzuki, in particular, that could be quite useful over the course of the season.
Do you remember Lars Eller? He was a projected top-six centre that showed flashes of strong offensive potential and a decent defensive game but whose inconsistency provided plenty of frustration to the point of making it feel like he was a bust? That’s what I think we’ll see from Dach this season; you can decide for yourself if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. (Eller, by the way, is about to enter his 13th season as an NHL regular.)
While I think it’s fair to project that Dach will hit new career-highs, it’s not as if that’s a particularly high bar to clear. I could see him checking in somewhere around 30 points which, with a reduced workload, would be a small step in the right direction. Could there be a big offensive explosion to come? Maybe but I’d be surprised if it happened in 2022-23.
From a fantasy perspective, Dach shouldn’t be on the radar in standard-sized leagues. He’s someone worth monitoring as a possible plug-and-play option depending on his role and the matchup but, to be fair, it’s not as if the Canadiens will be in a ton of positive matchups. In deeper pools, Dach slots in as a fourth liner and should go a little before the late-round flyers. Positional flexibility (C and RW) helps but more in the sense of being a tiebreaker over another 30-point player, not as someone to move up and take a round or two early while banking on perceived upside. Meanwhile, if your league counts faceoffs as a stat category, stay away entirely.
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