Kirby Dach Is Fulfilling His Potential with the Canadiens

Back in August, I wrote that Kirby Dach would benefit from getting a fresh start with the Montreal Canadiens following the trade with the Chicago Blackhawks that sent shockwaves through the Bell Centre on opening night of the 2022 NHL Draft. So far, he’s proving me right. He’s also making his general manager, Kent Hughes, look like a genius for pulling off a deal that was initially met with some skepticism, especially since he had to move fan favourite Alexander Romanov to get it done.

Taking His Game to a New Level

The 21-year-old centreman, who is already in his fourth NHL season, showed many promising signs and glimpses of his potential during training camp but didn’t have the offensive production to show for it early on this regular season. His underlying numbers were always good too, so it was only a matter of time. A few weeks ago, head coach Martin St. Louis decided to move Dach to the wing alongside the dynamic duo of Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield on Montreal’s top line. Through a handful of games, the results of this lineup change speak for themselves.

Kirby Dach Montreal Canadiens
Kirby Dach, Montreal Canadiens (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

He’s producing at almost a point-per-game pace with 14 points in 16 games which means he’s only 12 points away from matching his career-high of 26 points, which he put up last year, with 66 games still to go in 2022-23. He’s proving why he was selected third overall by the Blackhawks and showing why the Habs were wise to acquire him to be part of their budding young core.

St. Louis has allowed him to play freely and put him in situations to best utilize the many tools in his toolbox. He’s not necessarily a physical player, but he’s using his size and reach incredibly well. The newfound freedom has helped him find his confidence which means he has his game firing on all cylinders. Dach is finding success with Suzuki and Caufield because he can keep up with them. From a speed perspective, but also because he thinks the game at the same level as they do. He understands their strengths and what they’re trying to accomplish on the ice.

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“I definitely have confidence, I’m playing good,” said Dach. “I don’t think I’ve changed a whole lot; I’ve just continued to work at my game and focus on the next day and take a step in my development but also with the team.”

Still a Centre  

Although he’s flourishing on the wing, Canadiens’ management still views Dach as a center and anticipates him playing his natural position in the long term.

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“I think we look forward to him at centre, but right now I think Marty’s (St. Louis) found something that’s really working,” explained Canadiens executive vice president Jeff Gorton. “He thinks at their level, he’s got really good chemistry with those two players on and off the ice so why not go with it?”

The hope is that finding his form while playing on the wing will assist his eventual return to the middle thanks to the boost he’s getting from his new top-six role. He has connected with Vincent Lecavalier to pick his brain about faceoffs, an aspect that Dach has notoriously struggled with at the NHL level, as well as other aspects involved in mastering the art of playing centre.

There’s no doubt Hughes and Gorton envisioned Dach taking over the second-line centre spot behind Suzuki when they aggressively pursued him ahead of the draft because they know full well that having high-end talent and depth down the middle is key to building a championship calibre team. After all, their depth at the position this season thanks to the addition of Sean Monahan is what’s allowing them to play on the wing in the first place. Not to mention that Juraj Slafkovsky is eventually going to make a very strong case to become the perfect complement to Suzuki and Caufield. Regardless of which role Dach ultimately ends up being best suited for, he is a crucial piece of the Habs’ rebuild puzzle, one that is required for sustainable success and Stanley Cup aspirations.