Blackhawks rookie Kirby Dach brings ‘pro mentality’ back from AHL stint
Dach’s season outlook remains uncertain — there’s a big difference between playing in Chicago or in Saskatoon — but at least his concussion saga seems at an end.
Even before playing in his first NHL game, Blackhawks rookie center Kirby Dach wasn’t shy about admitting the skill level in the American Hockey League isn’t quite the same.
But the intensity, pace of play and professional mentality are close to NHL standards, and he said Saturday his three-game exposure to those things will aid his eventual transition into the Hawks’ lineup, whenever that might be.
‘‘[I learned] just how you prepare and the pro mentality and mindset that you have down there, that everybody’s fighting for an NHL roster spot,’’ Dach, 18, said after his first practice Saturday back in Chicago. ‘‘It’s not bad hockey. It was good for me to learn the toughness and the strength and the size of some guys and be able to play with those guys.’’
Dach’s six days with Rockford weren’t earth-shattering on paper. He had zero points and seven shots on goal, and the IceHogs went 1-2 in games in which he played. Yet he allegedly still looked a step beyond much of the AHL competition and created a plethora of scoring chances.
Exactly when and how Dach will implement his newly learned lessons in the NHL remains unclear. Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton didn’t talk with the media Saturday, and even Dach didn’t expect the call-up late Friday.
‘‘[Hawks executive] Mark Bernard just talked to me and said I was coming back up,’’ said Dach, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft in June. ‘‘I had no idea. I was kind of getting ready to play Chicago [on Saturday at Allstate Arena], but I’m here now and I’m happy to be back.’’
The last month has been a wild ride for Dach, who suffered a concussion Sept. 10 in the final game of the prospects tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. His conditioning stint made him the first No. 3 overall pick to make his pro debut in the AHL, rather than the NHL, since Jonathan Drouin in 2013.
But the roller coaster now has dropped Dach off at the doorstep of the NHL, and he might make his debut Sunday against the Capitals.
With the Dominik Kubalik-David Kampf-Brandon Saad line clicking so efficiently, Dach seems unlikely to slot into the third-line center role immediately. He might be eased into action with a fourth-line winger role, much like how Colliton has treated Alex Nylander in recent games, or perhaps thrust alongside one of the team’s core leaders.
‘‘I‘ve played wing in previous years, so it’s not something that’s new to me,’’ Dach said. ‘‘I haven’t talked to Jeremy or the coaching staff at all about when I’ll be playing or where I’ll be playing.’’
The week in the AHL seemed to refresh Dach mentally, too. He was noticeably less anxious and more chatty with the media Saturday than he was during his final practices before the conditioning stint, when the waiting seemed to be weighing on him.
Dach’s season outlook is still uncertain — there’s a big difference between playing for the Hawks and for Saskatoon, and both destinations are possible — but at least the concussion saga seems at an end.
‘‘As a kid, you always grew up dreaming of playing in the NHL, so there’ll be nerves,’’ Dach said. ‘‘But there’ll also be a lot of excitement. I’ve just got to do my best to focus on my game and be ready to play whenever my name’s called.’’