Blackhawks hope Dach can transform forward group, not just plug hole

Whether the new third overall pick will make the 2019-20 roster is uncertain, but his long-term projection excites the Hawks most.

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Dach could make the Blackhawks’ roster in 2019-20, but the team is focused more on his long-term projection.

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Even as the Blackhawks touted the glorious history of No. 3 draft picks in Chicago — from Denis Savard to Jonathan Toews to Michael Jordan — the news conference Monday introducing Kirby Dach, the team’s new top-three selection, took a decidedly forward-looking tone.

Dach could make the Hawks’ roster in training camp in September. But that’s not the team’s primary focus.

“Part of our job is to project, when Kirby has established himself in the league, what we think he’s going to be,” general manager Stan Bowman said. “We see him as a centerman who’s going to be the guy that can do a little bit of everything.

“If you’re going to be an elite player in this game, you can’t just be an offensive player. You have to be the guy that the coach wants to use when you’re ahead by a goal, and you need to win a faceoff and protect the lead.”

The Hawks already have their four centers for the coming season, unless pending restricted free agent David Kampf goes unqualified Tuesday or occasionally mentioned trade bait Artem Anisimov gets dealt. (Then again, if Dach looks ready to be an NHL center in the fall, he’ll easily take priority over both.)

The organization’s approach to the pick this weekend, however, had little to nothing to do with filling holes on the current roster — which might have contributed to passing on defenseman Bowen Byram. The long-term vision is for Dach to grow under the tutelage of Toews, who has a lot in common with the 18-year-old Albertan.

“I’m always trying to learn and improve, and to have Toews still here and to learn from him, along with [another center and former No. 3 pick in] Dylan Strome and what he went through — to have those older guys in the locker room to mentor me in my game is going to be awesome,” Dach said.

Dach was part of a group of top NHL prospects who attended Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final in St. Louis.

He saw how physical and intense the game was, giving him a glimpse of the style of play he’ll need to eventually adjust to. And he’s aware he’s not there yet, though he added he still plans to “make it tough on the management group to send me back” to juniors after NHL training camp.

Bowman was less convinced, or perhaps just less interested, in the immediate 2019-20 possibilities.

“If you look at Jonathan’s career and see the player that he has become, it didn’t happen in a month or in five months; it took a couple of years to become one of the top players in the game,” Bowman said.

In the meantime, Dach has much to get accustomed to: the intensity of professional hockey’s offseason workouts, the muscle he must add to his 6-4 frame, the city of Chicago itself. He’ll be back in town in July for prospects camp, which should help in all three regards.

And while he continues to focus on the day-to-day adjustments and pressures, the Hawks will keep their eyes on the big picture.

“[Given] the ceiling we see, projecting him two, three, four years down the road,” scouting director Mark Kelley said, “I think he can have a very strong impact on ... the franchise going forward.”

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