Adopting shoot-first mentality won’t be a new experience for Kirby Dach

The Blackhawks rookie took it upon himself to make the same mentality change in summer 2018 that he must make again now.

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Kirby Dach’s natural tendency is to pass instead of shoot, a mentality he must lose to become an NHL star.

Kirby Dach’s natural tendency is to pass instead of shoot, a mentality he must lose to become an NHL star.

John Locher/AP

BOSTON —Kirby Dach needs to shoot the puck more often.

The Blackhawks know it. Jeremy Colliton knows it. Dach knows it, too.

And Dach also knows he’s successfully fixed this problem before.

“I went through the same thing at 16 years old in junior,” he said last Friday, after squandering several chances against the Avalanche. “Same trend’s kind of happening here, and I’ve got to get rid of that as quick as I can.”

Dach scored just seven goals for the Saskatoon Blades in 2017-18, a sharp contrast to his 39 assists in 52 games that cemented his status as a first-round prospect heading into his draft year.

For him, that was fairly normal: he claims even now that he’s “always played with guys that maybe had better shots than I did,” so he naturally thought to pass first. Except his career kept surpassing those players who he thought had better shots.

With the draft buzz intensifying, he saw the possibility of a very high pick within reach. And he quickly realized what he had to doto get there.

“As a high-end player in junior, seven goals really isn’t enough to be a top performer,” Dach said Tuesday. “I looked at it and I knew I had to change that and be more of a threat.”

He went back to his suburban Edmonton family homeand shot pucks in the family garage throughout the summer. He adapted his workouts to focus on goal-scoring-related skills.

He also sought to build up his confidence, another necessary part of the desired mentality shift.

“I worked on things with people, whether it’s picking a pass out of your skates and getting it off quick, or rebounds in front of the net, and making sure every time I was coming down on a goalie I was shooting to score, not just shooting to shoot,” he said.

“That’s a big mentality for people nowadays. Some guys just come in and put pucks on net, and I think the real high-end goal-scorers in the league, they’re always shooting to score.”

That same summer, Saskatoon made a coaching change. Come training camp, new coach Mitch Love helped further Dach’s shoot-first progression on the ice and in the video room.

“We would show and talk about different scenarios in a game where he could probably possess his shot over a pass,” Love said. “For a lot of kids, it’s that visual that they need to see to help them gain their confidence in that mindset.”

It worked for Dach, too.

His goal total skyrocketed to 25 in 62 games in 2018-19, jumpstarted by a hat trick in just the second game of the season.

That scoring surge was driven by higher shot quantity. His shots on goal per game average leapt from 2.3 in 2017-18 to 3.4 last year; from Christmas on, he averaged 4.0 per game.

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Dach now finds himself in a similar situation in the NHL.

He’d recorded a measly three shots on goal in a five-game span prior to Monday, when his four shots on goal in the loss to the Blues reflected the first signs of his new (but not actually new) mentality shift. Colliton said Tuesday that Dach shooting more is indeed “something we’ve talked about.”

Based on what he did in juniors, though, it’s clear this is a fully attainable goal.

“He has a really good shot,” Love said. “He just, at times, because of his unselfishness, was reluctant to be a shooter. I’m sure he’ll learn that learn that as he goes about his young career in the NHL, because it’s definitely part of his game.”

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