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Kirby Dach proving 2019 NHL Draft class had a ‘big three’ after all

After a two-goal night Sunday, Dach is averaging more points per game than top-two picks Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko.

Kirby Dach scored twice as the Blackhawks beat the Sabres 4-1 on Sunday.
Kirby Dach scored twice as the Blackhawks beat the Sabres 4-1 on Sunday.
David Banks/AP

Blackhawks rookie Kirby Dach, never one to talk about himself, openly admits he keeps track of how Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko — the two players picked ahead of him in the draft in June — are doing.

When Dach next glances at the leaderboard, he’ll like what he sees.

The Devils’ Hughes has 10 points in 19 games. The Rangers’ Kakko has eight points in 16 games. After his first career two-goal game in the Hawks’ 4-1 victory Sunday against the Sabres, Dach has nine points in 14 games.

In terms of points per game, he’s now in the lead.

‘‘It’s a competition, but it’s good; it pushes each of us to be better,’’ Dach said. ‘‘We all want to prove that we’re the best one to come from the draft.

‘‘It’s obviously still a long way to go throughout our careers, but we’re going to be connected for a long time.’’

Dach took longer to find his groove in the NHL than his peers, but one hardly can blame him, considering he missed all of training camp and the first few weeks of the season recovering from a concussion.

Even upon returning to health, Dach had the uncertainty of his full-season home — Chicago or Saskatoon — hanging over him mentally. He never lets on that the Hawks’ decision to keep him (rather than send him back to juniors) eased his nerves, but there’s no denying his smiles are broader, his hard-nosed nature more hard-nosed and his signature celebrations more emphatic.

Because ever since the Hawks — who won their fourth game in a row — committed to the teenage center and subsequently switched their system to allow their forwards to flourish more, Dach has thrived.

Dach scores his second goal of the night over Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton.
AP Photos

Dach has four goals and two assists in his last four games. He also became only the second 18-year-old in 40 years to score multiple goals in a game for the Hawks, joining Patrick Kane (2007).

Kane and Dach aren’t alike in many ways, but Kane said he does see one thing they have in common.

‘‘Maybe a little bit of the confidence coming in at 18, to be able to just know that you’re a good hockey player,’’ Kane said. ‘‘[If] he continues on, gets a feel for the game, he’s going to be a special player.’’

It seems Dach already has a feel for the game.

‘‘I have a lot of confidence in myself and the team is playing good, so that helps out with individual success,’’ Dach said. ‘‘When your team is going the right way and you’re winning games and scoring goals and your top players are producing — not saying I’m a top player or anything — it helps a lot.’’

Making Dach’s recent burst all the more remarkable is that he is skating on the fourth line with grinders Ryan Carpenter and Zack Smith. He played the fewest minutes on the team Saturday against the Predators, and his ice time increased only slightly against the Sabres.

Overall, Dach is averaging just more than 11 minutes a game, a far cry from Hughes’ 15:58 and Kakko’s 15:18. Yet he’s outproducing them.

Neither coach Jeremy Colliton nor the Hawks’ front office, which veered off the board to take Dach over Bowen Byram and Alex Turcotte (neither of whom made their franchises’ NHL rosters), could have anticipated this. But they certainly aren’t complaining.

‘‘They’re kind of all different players,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘We love him, obviously. Got a lot of fun times ahead of us watching him develop.’’