TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Kirby Dach immediately noticed in his Traverse City prospects tournament debut on Friday that he wasn’t playing in the WHL anymore.
“There’s quite a big step up,” he said after the Blackhawks’ 5-4 win. “You’re not still playing with the top players in your organization [like in development camp], and it’s pretty fast out there. I’m excited for camp to roll around, but I’m pretty focused on this and trying to be good at this level before I get there.”
Of course, there’s nothing quite like a goal to help calm the nerves.
Dach converted a breakaway with a forceful backhand-to-forehand move as part of a roaring Blackhawks first period, then — after the host Red Wings rallied from three goals down — assisted on fellow first-rounder Adam Boqvist’s overtime winner from a near-impossible angle.
“I don’t know how he put that in,” Dach laughed. “I just gave it to him, and I saw him kind of winding up for the shot, and I was thinking, ‘Nah, he’s going to miss the net,’ so I was pulling out the zone. I don’t know what kind of gap he had, but it was unbelievable.”
The Hawks’ youngsters have a quick turnaround before facing the Maple Leafs’ prospects Saturday afternoon, but here are five observations from the victory:
- MacKenzie Entwistle is an advanced 20-year-old. Stan Bowman seemed impressed at development camp how fully Entwistle, a third-round pick acquired last summer from the Coyotes, has embraced his destiny as a bottom-six grinder. That may indeed be Entwistle’s ceiling, but he is impressively close to it already. The young winger was noticeable on a hard-working line with Mikael Hakkarainen and Dylan McLaughlin.
- Alexis Gravel played better than the stats show. Gravel’s .879 save percentage — 29 saves on 33 shots — doesn’t look great, but he was one of the Hawks’ best players Friday. The 2018 sixth-round pick made an unreal down-and-out save in the final minute to get the Hawks to overtime, the most stunning out of a number of quality stops.
- Penalty kill is an organizational weakness, even at this level. The Red Wings converted three of five power plays on the night — eerily similar to what the NHL version of the Blackhawks often conceded last year. Rockford coach Derek King, serving as head coach for the tournament, noted afterwards that the special teams issues (the Hawks were also 0-for-3 on the power play) can be partially attributed to lack of schematic practice time, but then again, the Wings were in the same boat.
- Boqvist vs. Seider should be a fun battle in years to come. Two of the better defensive prospects in the league went head-to-head Friday, with Boqvist’s OT winner helping him come out on top, but Moritz Seider — the Wings’ fifth overall selection in June — looking incredibly poised and talented as well. Even though the rival NHL clubs only play twice a year now, matchups between the two budding star defensemen will be exciting to follow in the decade ahead.
- Chad Krys struggled again. In the second round of the 2016 draft, the Hawks took Chad Krys just six spots after Alex DeBrincat. There’s still time for Krys to blossom, but the two-way defenseman didn’t have an incredible college career, and he also hasn’t been noticeable at this summer’s events ahead of his AHL rookie season. He took two costly penalties Friday.