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Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach looks faster, smoother, bolder entering ‘second’ year

Patrick Kane and coach Jeremy Colliton have raved about rookie Dach’s improvements in his second NHL training camp.

Kirby Dach has shown clear development in Blackhawks training camp.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Kirby Dach took a pass at center ice, deked around Matthew Highmore and — with a few powerful strides — created a breakaway for himself.

He used his strength to hold off a pursuing Brent Seabrook and nearly executed a beautiful forehand-to-backhand-to-forehand move on goalie Collin Delia.

It was the most exceptional part of the Blackhawks’ 25-minute intra-squad scrimmage Saturday, which ended in a 1-1 tie between Team Red and Team Black after goals from Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat.

Technically, Dach, 19, is still a rookie; technically, this is still the 2019-20 NHL season. But functionally, after more than four months between official team activities, Dach is going into his second year as a pro.

Any third overall pick is going to improve during his first few years in the league. Dach, however, is improving at a blistering pace.

“I expected, almost hoped, he’d come back and look like he took another step, just by being older and with some months of training,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “He’s been very noticeable with his skating and confidence on the puck, even more so than last year.

“We’ll see more production as he gets older and more comfortable at our level and [sees] what he can do against NHL defenders. We’re excited to see how that turns out.”

During the season stoppage, Dach went home to the Edmonton suburbs and immediately set himself up in his family’s home gym.

In between trips “up at the lake and away from social media,” Dach, who’s mature beyond his years, put on quite a bit of muscle.

“A big thing for me during this break was to get in the gym right away and maintain my strength and try to add some size, but at the same time not take away from my on-ice game,” Dach said. “I was able to accomplish that and tweaked a couple of things, started working with some new people that really helped me out.”

Dach scored 23 points in 64 games in his rookie regular season.
AP Photo/David Banks

The rinks in Alberta were closed for much of the spring. But Dach said he was able to enjoy “three or four weeks” of skating five days a week after they reopened and before he traveled back to Chicago in time for the start of training camp on Monday.

Since returning to Fifth Third Arena, Dach has been centering a line with Dominik Kubalik and Drake Caggiula in practice and making his improvement visible during the Hawks’ two scrimmages.

On Wednesday, the Hawks’ scrimmage was free-flowing. On Saturday, the coaching staff ran the scrimmage with more structure, starting each shift with a faceoff.

In both formats, Dach was noticeably smoother and more effective at creating scoring chances.

“I noticed it right away,” Patrick Kane said. “Looks like he’s skating better, looks like his shot’s better. He looks like he’s a little bit bigger, like he might have put some weight on. He’s looked good.”

Dach’s point total wasn’t bad in his first season: 23 in 64 games. That tied for seventh among rookie forwards, matching second pick Kaapo Kakko and topping first pick Jack Hughes’ 21. And Dach’s advanced defensive stats were great, ranking among the best on the Hawks.

Still, he didn’t have the offensive success right off the bat that Jonathan Toews, whom he’s often projected to eventually replace, did in his 2007-08 rookie season.

The Hawks hope Dach reaches that level, and it just might happen in his second year. Based on the first week of camp, that hope seems well-placed.