After missing the playoffs for two seasons in a row, Blackhawks fans were delighted to have the third-overall pick at the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Jonathan Toews was the last player the Blackhawks picked third overall, so expectations were high. Experts and fans predicted that the Blackhawks would pick Bowen Byram or Alex Turcotte, but they picked Kirby Dach of the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades. Dach promises to be a strong player for the Blackhawks, but there are still questions that need to be answered.
Here are three pros and two cons about the Blackhawks drafting Dach.
Pro: Track Record
Though it took some time for Dach to establish himself as a reliable center on the Blades, he exceeded expectations in the 2018-19 season with a total of 25 goals and 48 assists in 62 games. He also added five goals and three assists in 10 playoff games.
Blackhawks scouts liked what they saw from him, as Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman told the Chicago Tribune,
“When you look at the game that Kirby brings to Chicago, he’s got a little bit of everything,” Bowman said. “He’s got the skill to play with the high-skill players. He can make plays that can wow you. He’s also got the competitiveness to show that he wants it more than anyone else. I think we’ve got a special player here, and as you’ll see, we’re excited for what’s to come,”from ‘From Edmonton to Saskatoon to Chicago, Blackhawks top pick Kirby Dach never stopped thinking about hockey,’ Chicago Tribune– 6/24/19.
Con: High Risk
Draft busts are much more common than successful draft picks. This doesn’t just go for the first-overall pick because third-overall picks are often busts. Before coming to the Blackhawks last season, Dylan Strome was considered a third-overall bust due to his lack of success with the Arizona Coyotes. Unlike Strome, not everyone gets a chance to redeem themselves.
The Blackhawks have a strong history of taking reliable players with the third pick, but there have been a couple of busts, like Cam Barker in 2004. On paper, there isn’t much risk with Dach. He has the skills to become a solid center, but not all skills translate from the WHL. The scouting staff seems to have a lot of faith in Dach, so his transition to the NHL should be a successful one.
Pro: Possible Quick Start
Many NHL prospects still have contracts with their junior league teams or have committed to play college hockey for at least a year or two. Dach has no commitments or contracts lined up. It’s rare, even for high-level prospects to start playing in the NHL immediately, but it’s a possibility for Dach.
Despite the hype over a possible quick start, Bowman assured the media that it’s okay of Dach takes his time:
“Part of our job is to project when Kirby has established himself in the league, what we think he’s going to be. We see him as a centerman who’s going to be the guy that can do a little bit of everything. If you’re going to be an elite player in this game, you can’t just be an offensive player. You have to be the guy that the coach wants to use when you’re ahead by a goal, and you need to win a faceoff and protect the lead,”from ‘Blackhawks hope Dach can transform forward group, not just plug hole,’ Chicago Sun-Times– 6/24/19.
Hope is not lost if Dach doesn’t make the roster right out of training camp in September. The scouts see potential in him, and it might take a season for him to truly live up to that potential and be at his best for the organization. Even if Dach doesn’t suit up in October, he will be wearing a Blackhawks sweater sooner rather than later.
Con: Future Cap Space
With star players with eight-figure salaries like Toews and Patrick Kane, the salary cap is tough to navigate. If Dach lives up to expectations, he should receive a higher salary when his entry-level contract expires.
Players like Strome and Alex DeBrincat are projected to reduce the team’s cap space when their contracts expire at the end of the 2019-20 season. DeBrincat’s contract has a cap hit of $778,333. Discussion of re-signing him during the offseason is in the works, since he’s going to be expensive. On the other hand, Strome’s contract has a cap hit of $863,333. He is likely due for a seven-figure salary in his next contract, but the deal should be smaller than DeBrincat’s. If both players live up to their standards next season, it is going to be much more difficult to give Dach the salary he will likely be worth in the future.
Pro: Larger Stature
In recent years, players who are smaller in stature but have speed (like DeBrincat) have had a lot of success. However, it’s important to have larger players to help balance out the roster. At 6-foot-4 and 198 pounds, Dach should bulk up to further expand his physical presence on the ice.
Dach doesn’t let his size get in the way of his speed, as Blackhawks’ vice president of scouting, Mark Kelley told NHL.com: “He’s tough, strong with the puck, skates really well for a kid his size, and has a big reach with that stick of his. Which helps him not only in the offensive end, and in dirty areas, but defensively. He doesn’t float back to his half of the ice. He breaks up plays. The complete package.”
Dach isn’t only a strong physical presence on the ice. He also has the skills to back it up. With proper training and preparation, he is primed to be a dominant center, which will help the Blackhawks immensely.
Like every hockey player, Dach has his strengths and weaknesses. It is important to acknowledge both as he prepares to make his NHL debut with the Blackhawks, but the pros outweigh the cons.
All stats obtained from hockeydb.com