Blackhawks prospect Colton Dach bringing ‘fire,’ physicality and scoring in the AHL

Dach’s first pro season is off to a great start. He ranks fourth among all AHL rookie forwards in points per game (with 12 points in 13 games) while playing with an edge.

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Colton Dach takes a shot for Rockford.

Colton Dach has tallied 12 points in his first 13 games for Rockford.

Todd Reicher/Rockford IceHogs Photos

A prospect can adopt two different attitudes in the AHL as a means of motivating himself.

The most common is one of patience and progression. Most prospects accept that playing in the AHL is a normal and important step in their journey to the NHL, and they focus on trying to learn as much as possible while keeping the big picture in mind.

But other prospects view an AHL assignment as a slight on them — as an indication others don’t believe they’re ready for the NHL yet — and use that chip-on-their-shoulder attitude to bring maximum energy every night. Whether they genuinely feel slighted or have manufactured that feeling to push themselves up through the ranks since youth hockey, this approach can work for the right type of player.

Blackhawks forward prospect Colton Dach, one month into his first pro season in Rockford, seems to fit into that second category.

“I took the fire of getting sent down and I want to prove to them that I can be up there,” Dach said this weekend. “That’s what I’m doing down here. I want to show I can be consistent, and I need to do that on a day-in, day-out basis.

“I think I have a lot of confidence. I do a pretty good job of finding the line [between] cocky and confident.”

That cockiness and feistiness is evident not only in interviews but also on the ice, and the Hawks like those elements of his game. It’s something that differentiates Colton, 20, from his older brother Kirby.

When he graduates into the NHL — and he eventually will, just perhaps not as imminently as he would like — he projects as a third-line forward who can bring a mix of scoring and physicality, and that feistiness will be particularly crucial then.

Hawks coach Luke Richardson, who took advantage of a schedule overlap to watch the Rockford-Manitoba game Friday in person, noticed and appreciated how frequently Dach was “annoying people.”

But for now, Dach is playing top-six minutes on the IceHogs and making the very most of them. With 12 points in 13 games so far, he ranks fifth among all AHL rookie forwards in points per game.

Dach___Reicher_2.jpg

Colton Dach.

Todd Reicher/Rockford IceHogs Photos

Rockford coach Anders Sorensen — a man typically stingy with praise — thought Dach’s attributes would translate well to pro hockey after watching him in training camp (before Dach missed a month with an ankle injury). But since making his AHL debut Nov. 4, Dach has exceeded even Sorensen’s expectations.

“He’s been really good. [We’re] really happy with him,” Sorensen said. “[He’s a] big body, and he plays a hard game. ... In offensive-zone play, he’s been really good off the wall, getting to the net and taking pucks there or getting there when the puck gets there.”

The fact so many of Dach’s points do come around the net is another good sign for his upside in the NHL, where only elite players can regularly score from the outside. Players whose AHL production comes mostly from the outside — Dylan Sikura, for example — often struggle to translate that scoring when called up, for contrast.

“I’m never going to shy away from the physicality,” Dach said. “You’ve obviously got to watch yourself a little bit — there’s some big guys out here — but [you have to] be confident and be strong on the puck. [I want to] show them I can battle with them.”

Dach’s game isn’t perfect yet, as one would expect for a 20-year-old. Sorensen has talked to him about his defensive positioning and shift lengths, and Dach admitted he sometimes spends too much time “trying to read the play” rather than immediately engaging in it.

His prospect stock has certainly increased so far this season, though.

More Rockford updates

Prospect forward Ryder Rolston, who’s also in his first pro season, has tallied six points in 15 games so far.

He was never a major point-producer at Notre Dame either, but he’s an intriguing prospect because of his elite speed — and his ability to use that speed to make an impact on the forecheck. His stick usage has also improved this year, making his forechecking even more disruptive.

“When he’s hounding pucks, he’s really effective,” Sorensen said. “Some guys are almost better pro guys than they are college guys. It’s maybe a little bit too early to say [definitively], but he might fall in that category because he is so quick. At this level, if you can play with that tenacity and intensity every shift, you can be effective.”

The former Avalanche draft pick is worth monitoring, and with his overly loose jersey always blowing in the wind behind him, he’s easy to spot.

  • Defenseman Nolan Allan has moved back to his natural left side at the moment, but Sorensen still believes he has the right “toolset” to potentially fit long-term on the right side, which would make his NHL path much easier.
  • Forward Marcel Marcel has two points in his first nine AHL games. He has dealt with some injuries, and Rockford coaches are focused on improving his conditioning and fitness — no easy task for somebody who’s 6-4, 244 pounds — so his body can better handle the rigors of pro hockey.
  • Goalie Jaxson Stauber’s AHL save percentage this season remains a subpar .891 (and it was .894 last season), but he has allowed three goals or fewer in four consecutive starts. Sorensen said Stauber has worked on his posture to take up more space in the net.
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