Off social media, Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach finally feels free to find his ‘perfect fit’ in NHL

A defiant Dach said Saturday that he’s embracing his current role as a defensive forward and ignoring external pressures to become more than that.

SHARE Off social media, Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach finally feels free to find his ‘perfect fit’ in NHL

Kirby Dach has tallied just one point but has played well defensively this January.

AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski

It’s important to remember that Kirby Dach didn’t pick himself third overall.

The pressure and expectations — which he knows he hasn’t lived up to — that arise from that draft position aren’t his fault, his choice. Instead, they’re a significant burden to a kid from suburban Edmonton who just celebrated his 21st birthday last week.

But, by coincidence or not, Dach’s mindset has experienced a sea change this January. He seems insistent now, and rightly so, that he alone controls his destiny on the Blackhawks and in hockey.

And right now, it has to be OK that he’s not what everyone wants him to be.

“I’ve been put in a situation where I’m playing that third-line, checking, shutdown role,” he said Saturday. “If you look back at the games I’ve been playing like that, I’ve done a pretty good job in that role.

“Something that each player on this team has been doing is trying to find their own role. If that’s going to be my role, I’m going to play it like that. I’d like to score and get points because that’s all everyone on social media thinks the game of hockey is about. [But] it’s a hard game, shutting down those lines. You’re getting the best players each night, and that’s a challenge that I want.”

In an interview Dec. 29, Dach sounded overwhelmed by the “outside noise” and negativity. He admitted then that it was “tough to run away from” that, adding he didn’t want to be “known [for getting] a bunch of grade-A chances and can’t score.”

A few days later, however, Dach realized one method by which he could escape it all: deleting social-media apps, particularly Twitter and Instagram, off his phone. He immediately noticed a difference in his mental health and self-confidence.

“It was something I wanted to try, and [I] started having good games after,” he said. “After that initial week of deleting it, you stop going on your phone as much.”

In 11 games this month, Dach has only one point but has allowed the fourth-fewest opponent scoring chances per minute among Hawks forwards. And that’s despite often matching up against opponents’ first lines — he took on Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen in both games against the Avalanche this past week, for example.

He also has more free time to entertain himself in healthier ways, binge-watching “Yellowstone” and its prequel, “1883,” among several other TV shows.

And, most important, he finally feels free to contemplate his present and future identity as a player — and be honest with himself and others while doing so.

“There’s good communication from the coaching staff, management and myself [about] what they believe I can be and what I think I can be,” he said. “[I’m] trying to find what’s the perfect fit and how it’s all going to work out down the road. Because this isn’t a one- or two-year project — this is my career. And I want to be able to develop into a player that can be here for a long time and have success.”

What he now sees in the mirror is a more defensive-oriented forward — perhaps in a similar mold to Flyers forward Sean Couturier, one of several role models he mentioned.

And, sure, that might be a somewhat underwhelming outcome for a No. 3 pick. But he can’t adopt that as his personal problem.

“That’s where I want to get my game,” he said. “Not necessarily putting up 100 points every year, but just being a guy that obviously produces offensively — because that’s how you win games, [by] scoring more goals than the other team. But being able to shut down other lines and have that challenge every night, I thrive off that.”

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