Within a matter of days, two of the Blackhawks’ important long-term assets have been knocked out of competition.
But to equate wing Alex Nylander, who had knee surgery Monday, with center Kirby Dach, who suffered a wrist injury Wednesday, would be inaccurate.
Nylander won’t be a franchise centerpiece, even if his hotly debated potential eventually pans out. Dach, conversely, arguably already is a franchise centerpiece.
So while the Hawks surely won’t be happy to begin the season Jan. 13 without either of them, it’s Dach’s injury — even though it likely will have a significantly shorter recovery time than Nylander’s surgery — that is of greater concern.
Dach, 19, skated off holding his right wrist after an innocent-looking hit on Ilya Safonov in the Canada-Russia exhibition game at the world junior championships in Edmonton, Alberta.
This is... uh... very bad! Kirby Dach (@NHLBlackhawks) tries to play the body in the neutral zone, and immediately heads to the bench.— J.D. Burke (@JDylanBurke) December 24, 2020
Appears to have injured his hand/wrist/arm area on this play. pic.twitter.com/NRooXud5eL
The Hawks confirmed the injury Thursday and announced Dach is returning to Chicago for further evaluation. Hockey Canada simultaneously announced Dach will miss the rest of the tournament.
TSN’s Bob McKenzie, meanwhile, reported that Dach suffered a fracture and that doctors haven’t yet determined whether he’ll need surgery.
There are several factors working in Dach’s favor. The injury being a fracture, rather than a dislocation, is good news. And injuries to the wrist are often faster to recover from than those to other areas of the body.
Wing Patrick Kane broke a bone in his left wrist in July 2011, for example, and team physician Dr. Michael Terry gave a six- to eight-week recovery estimate. Lesser wrist injuries often come with four- to six-week estimates.
That kind of timeline would put Dach in the Hawks’ lineup as soon as early February, just a few weeks into the 56-game season.
But if surgery is required, the recovery might take much longer and the effect on the Hawks — as well as on Dach’s development — might be far greater.
Former Hawks center Marcus Kruger had surgery in December 2015 for a dislocated wrist, for example, and was ruled out for about four months. He eventually returned after three months and a week. A timeline such as that one would knock out Dach for most of the 2021 regular season.
With Nylander likely out for the entire season and Dach bound to miss at least some time, the Hawks will look to prospects such as Brandon Hagel and Philipp Kurashev and European imports Pius Suter and Matej Chalupa to fill the newly opened slots among the forwards.
The news also puts more pressure on the Hawks to get a contract settled with still-unsigned Dylan Strome, who is suddenly — albeit temporarily — the No. 2 center again.
The absences of Nylander and Dach will hurt the Hawks’ on-ice product, but that was never the highest priority in 2021, given the team’s new commitment to rebuilding through youth and willingness to somewhat write off the next couple of seasons.
The real calamity would be a setback to Dach’s growth into the all-around future star he so far has looked on track to become.
That was, after all, why the Hawks allowed him — reportedly at his begging — to compete in the world juniors event: He would gain more valuable experience against fellow top prospects and improve his leadership skills as the Canadian team’s captain.
(In hindsight, the Hawks are taking heat for that decision. The Rangers’ previously controversial decision to hold back wingers Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko now is being lauded. But injuries are unpredictable, and this unlucky outcome probably shouldn’t put either club any more in the right or wrong.)
So Dach and the Hawks will hope for encouraging news from his further evaluations and hope even more that whatever missed time this leads to doesn’t prove disruptive to his long-term career track.
In other words, it’s time for everyone to cross their fingers.