Kirby Dach is going to be an incredible hockey player one day. In fact, he might be the right man to steer the Chicago Blackhawks towards excellence again once the old guard finally moves on. But that time is not today, and it’s OK for the team to admit that right now.
Dach has no points over his past 11 games. The honeymoon phase that started with seven points in five games prior to his slump seems to be over. He was averaging just 11:25 a night in his first 15 games with the Blackhawks, but that was boosted to 13:04 during this cold stretch. A lack of ice time can’t be totally blamed, but he’s back to the fourth line now.
The agreement put in place with the CHL to prevent junior-eligible stars from going directly to the AHL has put a bit of a bind on the situation. Dach would thrive in the AHL, and even though he failed to record a point in a three-game conditioning stint earlier in the season with Rockford, he was coming off a concussion and just trying to adjust to the pro lifestyle, so that’s fair. But he’s in a spot now where he couldn’t get too much out of returning to WHL Saskatoon, plus he’s not producing in the NHL.
So, now we’re at the point in the year where NHL teams need to consider allowing their young guns an opportunity to play at the World Junior Championship or not. Of the eight active U-20 players in the NHL right now, none of them has been granted leave to represent his country in the Czech Republic later this month. The argument can be made that playing on the bigger ice in Europe could create bad tendencies, but it’s the playing time and the elite talent making up Canada’s top six that matter.
That’s why it might actually be in Dach’s best interest to represent Canada. It’ll be a chance for him to be reunited with Alexis Lafreniere and Joe Veleno in a trio that dominated at the World Junior Summer Showcase in Plymouth back in August. Getting his mojo back with players he can thrive with will help Dach’s confidence, especially if the Hawks want to bring him back afterward. At least, it’ll get him moving more than he is with Ryan Carpenter and Alex Nylander on Chicago’s fourth line.
It’s not uncommon for a player to be loaned from an NHL team and then get reassigned to his junior team after the World Junior Championship. Matt Dumba was loaned to Canada’s world junior team after playing just 13 of Minnesota’s first 28 games in 2013-14 and finished the season with WHL Portland. The next year, he spent more than half the season with the Wild before becoming one of the team’s most valuable players in the five years since. And while he’s a defenseman, it was clear that Dumba couldn’t handle full NHL duty right off the bat and benefited from playing against competition his own age again.
It’s up to the Blackhawks to see whether they value pro experience over extra ice time against junior players, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an NHL club that would entertain the latter. When Blackhawks coach Jeremy Colliton was asked in early December whether Dach would play at the tournament or not, he said, “I don’t think so. It hasn’t come up from my end.” Of course, things can change, and Dach’s play hasn’t been that great in the four games since. Points aren’t everything, especially for a rookie playing on a poor team just trying to get experience. But would it really hurt to join a team chasing gold as an impressionable, young pro? That’s the dilemma.
Dach wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the Blackhawks out of training camp, but he was deserving of it in the end. This season was all about adjustment for the young star, but after a nice burst in November, he’s been quiet ever since. Giving him an opportunity to play a pivotal role on a championship-contending team like Canada could be a major benefit for Dach in his development path, and if it all works out, he could be back in Chicago in no time.
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