Trevor Zegras’ success sets unfair standard for Kirby Dach evaluations with Blackhawks
In a perfect world, the Hawks probably should’ve picked Zegras — who eventually went ninth to the Ducks — with the third pick in 2019. But they also could’ve done a lot worse than Dach with the third pick.
Make no mistake, the Blackhawks would be better off with Trevor Zegras than with Kirby Dach.
Zegras, whom the Ducks selected ninth overall in the 2019 NHL Draft, has taken the hockey world by storm. His 42 points in 52 games this season entering play Tuesday ranked third among rookies, and the way he has earned those 42 points is even more impressive. He’s neck-and-neck with Red Wings breakouts Mo Seider and Lucas Raymond in the Calder Trophy race.
Ducks coach Dallas Eakins even compared Zegras to Hawks star Patrick Kane, and it’s easy to see the likeness in their body types, playing styles and natural showmanship.
‘‘He has certainly put a lot of eyes on our organization,’’ Eakins said Tuesday. ‘‘The thing about ‘Z’ is he’s so full of confidence. He believes he can absolutely do anything. It’s a thing that I personally love about him. He obviously can score goals or set up goals by himself, very similar to the young man Kane that you have here. They’re dangerous in their own ways.’’
From a Hawks perspective, however, the only thing Zegras’ success has done is create an unfair, unrealistic standard by which to evaluate Dach.
Much of the Hawks’ fan base seemingly has soured on Dach already, deluded by outrageously high expectations and the outliers — such as Zegras — who meet them. In reality, Dach is roughly what a third overall pick should be at this stage.
His 54 points in 136 career games entering play Tuesday were tied for the third-most in the 2019 class, trailing only Jack Hughes and Zegras and equaling Kaapo Kakko in 15 fewer appearances.
Dach is a far better defensive center than he is an offensive one, too, so points alone aren’t the best way to judge him. His 1.2 defensive point shares this season (according to Hockey Reference) lead all Hawks forwards and all forwards in the 2019 class.
He might never grow into the all-around, Jonathan Toews-style superstar former general manager Stan Bowman promised, but he’s already a decent NHL player on his way to becoming a very good one.
But did Bowman err in drafting him? The 2019 draft was fascinating because the top two picks — Hughes to the Devils and Kakko to the Rangers — were obvious for months in advance, but the next eight, starting with the Hawks’ No. 3 selection, were extremely hard to forecast.
Up until the day of the draft, defenseman Bowen Byram and forward Alex Turcotte appeared to be the front-runners to go third. Indeed, they ultimately went right after the Hawks selected Dach, going fourth to the Avalanche and fifth to the Kings, respectively.
And of that trio, it can be argued Dach looks like the best choice.
Byram’s promising career has been jeopardized by an unfortunate series of head injuries, casting his present and future in doubt. He has played in only 37 games for the Avalanche, 18 this season.
Turcotte, meanwhile, has appeared in only eight games for the Kings, notching zero points. Although he has been fairly effective in the American Hockey League, there’s growing angst about his development rate.
Dylan Cozens, Vasili Podkolzin and Philip Broberg were in the mix to go No. 3 overall, too, and none has significantly outperformed Dach so far, either.
Cozens (42 points in 96 career games) and Podkolzin (16 in 54) have generated similar production and had similar defensive impacts to Dach with the Sabres and Canucks, respectively. Broberg, a defenseman, is in a similar situation to Turcotte, as he has struggled to find solid footing with the Oilers.
In a perfect world, the Hawks should have picked Zegras third overall. Seider and Matthew Boldy, who fell to the Wild at No. 12 but has roared into the NHL in the last few months, might have been smarter choices, too. But the Hawks also could have done a lot worse than Dach, based on what we know now.
And that brings up another point: It’s still very early to be redrafting and re-evaluating the 2019 class. None of these players will peak for several more years, by which point the goalposts might have moved substantially.
So when drooling over highlights of Zegras’ alley-oop assist in Buffalo or his lacrosse-style goal in Montreal, try not to imagine him starring in a Hawks sweater in Dach’s place.
That’s neither how the NHL Draft works nor what should be expected of Dach.