Blackhawks rookie Kirby Dach has been a different type of player than expected
The third overall pick of the 2019 draft entered play Saturday with only one point in his last 27 games. But maybe he’s being judged by the wrong statistics.
TORONTO — Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton has been asked about rookie Kirby Dach’s nonexistent production a lot lately. A third overall pick having only one point in his last 27 games will do that.
But Colliton repeatedly has said he’s happy with Dach’s play. On Saturday, he elaborated more on the party line.
‘‘Of course, you’d love to see him break through,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘But as far as how we evaluate his progression, we’re very happy with how he’s improved as the year’s gone on. He’s playing very well defensively, he’s physical, he’s got a great stick.
‘‘The points haven’t been there, but he’s been part of the production of some of the other guys throughout this stretch, where he’s played really well but just happens to not touch the puck at the end. It doesn’t mean he’s not doing great things.’’
Colliton is correct that Dach has been unlucky not to have a few more points than the 11 (in 42 games entering Saturday) he has. Dach has scored or assisted on only 56 percent of the five-on-five goals he has been on the ice for. Only Ryan Carpenter and Matthew Highmore, two defense-first forwards, have gotten fewer box-score rewards for the goals they’ve helped produce.
But maybe Dach is a defense-first forward, too.
That’s not what his draft position, scouting report or prospects tournament performance indicated he would be — at least not immediately. He was pegged to be a two-way center, a Jonathan Toews-type guy down the line, but most young players develop their offense first.
Yet more than halfway through his rookie season, Dach is doing the opposite.
‘‘I’ve always wanted to be a complete centerman and find that two-way game, where you’re able to be counted on defensively and offensively,’’ Dach said Saturday. ‘‘I’ve worked hard on that aspect.’’
Dach’s season so far can be divided into three portions. In his first 11 games, he had no stable linemates and played few minutes (10 per game at five-on-five). The results were fine, but they weren’t very interesting.
In his next 16 games, he started to develop some line consistency. Carpenter and Zack Smith were alongside him more often than not, and his five-on-five minutes increased to just less than 12 per game. After a torrid four-game stretch, Dach really struggled. The Hawks were outscored 7-0 at five-on-five in a 12-game span with him on the ice, and his scoring-chance ratio was a miserable 42.1 percent.
In his last 15 games (entering Saturday), Dach has played a lot alongside Alex DeBrincat, and his five-on-five minutes are up to about 13.5 per game. He has been on the ice for seven Hawks goals (and six against), even though he has only one point individually. His offensive role has decreased, partly because of playing with a shoot-first guy such as DeBrincat. He has taken only 17.8 percent of the Hawks’ shots during his shifts, down from 23 percent before, which was already low.
And yet he has become fantastic defensively. For the season, Dach ranks second only to Highmore (and his 18 appearances) among 14 Hawks forwards in fewest opponents’ shots per minute. And he only has improved that rate in his last 15 games, despite playing with a defender as historically poor as DeBrincat.
The Hawks certainly want Dach’s offensive side to reveal itself — and the sooner, the better. But if this is the path he takes to stardom, there’s nothing wrong with it.