Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach might be turning a corner, based on strong recent performances

Dach has tallied five points in his last five games, his most productive stretch this season, and attempted 29 shots his last 10 games, his heaviest-shooting stretch in two calendar years.

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Kirby Dach has tallied five points in his last five games.

Kirby Dach has tallied five points in his last five games.

Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

In a season full of disappointment, Blackhawks center Kirby Dach might finally be turning a corner. 

Dach’s performance Monday in a 3-1 win over the host Jets was one of his best in months. He made an impact nearly every shift, not only helping to create both of the Hawks’ non-empty-net goals but also controlling the ice with his excellent skating, long stick and — at long last — confidence.

“He was great [Monday night],” winger Alex DeBrincat said. “He forced a lot of turnovers and kept it in their zone a lot, [which] makes it easier on everyone on the team.”

On the Hawks’ first goal, Dach took a neutral-zone breakout pass from defenseman Jake McCabe, gave the puck to an open Patrick Kane on the wing, then rushed ahead with a powerful stride. That net drive — supplemented by a sly bit of interference — literally moved Jets defenseman Ville Heinola out of the way, giving Kane plenty of time and space to rip a five-hole shot.

On the Hawks’ second goal, Dach’s neutral-zone pressure this time flustered defense-man Josh Morrissey, forcing him to turn the puck over to DeBrincat, then gap up away from DeBrincat on the ensuing rush in order to keep tabs on Dach down the wing. That gave DeBrincat similar time and space to rip a top-corner shot.

In between those plays were other subtle but strong moments, including a breakaway in which Dach blew past Jets defenseman Dylan DeMelo and got off a well-placed shot, as well as a strong net drive that enabled a Brandon Hagel-to-Kane cross-seam pass and a shot by Kane off the crossbar.

Dach also played well defensively, as defenseman Connor Murphy later noted.

“All over the ice, he’s so effective when he’s coming back and stripping pucks,” Murphy said. “In the ‘D’-zone, he’s got such a long reach, and he’s able to have strength on his blade when he reaches around guys to pick their pockets. He was doing it against some of [the Jets’] top-line guys, [like Mark] Scheifele and [Blake] Wheeler.

“It’s impressive when he’s able to do that and control the game from center ice, to turn things over the other way and let his wingers get creative and make plays. That’s a sign of a great centerman. We’re definitely lucky to have him and to see how much he has been growing.”

Ironically, interim coach Derek King had acknowledged earlier in the day Monday that the Hawks have considered moving Dach to wing to cover for his struggles in faceoffs. But his performance against the Jets exemplified all the reasons why he’s a natural center. After the game, King named Dach one of the night’s standout players. 

He now has five points in his last five games, his most productive stretch of that length this season. And he has attempted 29 shots over his last 10 games (at even strength), his heaviest such stretch of shooting in two calendar years.

To get back on the development trajectory the Hawks first imagined for him, Dach, the third overall pick of the 2019 draft, will certainly need many more excellent games like Monday’s. And he’ll need to extend these encouraging scoring and shooting streaks over much larger sample sizes. 

But it’s easy to see that Dach’s play has improved significantly since he deleted his social media accounts, changed his mindset and embraced taking control over who he is as a person and player — all subjects he discussed in an introspective interview in late January. It’s probably not a coincidence.

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