Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach Pressures Himself To Finally Live Up To His Potential

Kirby Dach has been rubbing his goatee a lot introspectively lately.

While the Blackhawks’ vacation has been extended to a two-week hiatus, engulfing the end of the franchise’s chaotic 2021 calendar year, the franchise’s anointed future cornerstone has arguably found too much time to reflect on its own frustratingly fruitless year.

“I just want to become the player I know I am,” said Dach, who turns 21 in January, Tuesday. “It’s been 2.5 years. The ups and downs, the silences [and] the highlights, it’s frustrating. It sucks.

“While an athlete shouldn’t really pay attention to outside noise, it’s hard to walk away from it. I know I need to get better. That’s really what it all comes down to.”

Exactly one year ago on Tuesday, he seemed to surprise him by recalling that he underwent surgery on the wrist that he happened to break during last year’s World Junior Championships.

His pulse feels good now, and since late summer. But the obstacle that shoved the recovery period in his development path – pushing him to just 18 games last season with less than 100% health and just 48 in total this calendar year – proved harder than expected to continue.

“It’s been a long year,” he said. “Of course I don’t think I’m where I should be, but that’s for me to clear up and get better. There’s still a lot on the table [and] there’s still a lot of season left to get to that point.”

In those 48 games, Dach scored 23 points – seven goals, 16 assists – and won just 35.7% of his 485 face-offs.

There are several indicators that he plays better than looks. He excels at offensive zone entries – 75.0% of his entries are puck-controlled, dwarfing the league average of 52.4%, according to data from analyst Corey Snzajder. And his passing is deceptively good too – he averages 4.2 assists per 60 minutes, well above the league average of 2.6 per Snazhder. He is the Hawks’ second-best striker in both categories.

But Dach’s reputation is still shaped – in a negative way – by his reluctance to shoot the puck and his lack of overall production, partly as a result.

Expectations are so high for a third overall pick by his third season that those weaknesses are just not acceptable anymore. The Sun-Times poll on Dec. 18 on Polling Place found that only 58.9% of Hawks fans still believe Dach can become a frontline center, let alone a Jonathan Toews-esque star. He also hears that criticism.

“I never really want to be a famous man” [for getting] a bunch of A chances and can’t score,” he said.

He insists it’s not the pressure of playing in the NHL that gets to him. Instead, it’s his own – the pressure he puts on himself “to be better for the team, [for] the organisation.”

As a team, the Hawks collectively have stopped thinking and relying on their instincts since Derek King took over. Inciting that mentality change is King’s greatest success as an interim coach.

However, Dach gets stuck in his own head, perhaps trying too hard to make something great happen every shift. Unlocking his immense natural talent has proved a difficult task. But King remains optimistic that he will eventually break through.

“He’s his worst critic,” King said. “He is strict with himself and is very proud of his game, which sometimes… [is] hard to find in a young player. Sometimes I forget, and many people forget, how [young] He is. He’s just a kid.

“It’s not like it happened overnight, but it won’t be three or four years before he finds out. He’s figuring it out now and he just needs to tighten up [his game] now. I like the way he’s going.”

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