VANCOUVER — The last time the Blackhawks were in Vancouver for the NHL Draft, they selected Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006 that altered the direction of the franchise forever. Thirteen years later, the Blackhawks are hoping to have found another superstar in the making after taking center Kirby Dach with the No. 3 overall pick on Friday.
In many ways, the Blackhawks felt like they had won the lottery when they jumped from No. 12 to No. 3. As Stan Bowman called it, this is a "game-changer" for the organization because the top-three is where teams can add game-breaking type players for the next 10-15 years.
The Blackhawks had a plethora of options at No. 3 — including standout defenseman Bowen Byram, who went No. 4 to Colorado, and Island Lake native center Alex Turcotte, who went No. 5 to Los Angeles — and felt the 6-foot-4, 197-pound Dach separated himself from the rest because he plays the kind of style that wins games in both the regular season and playoffs. He's a gifted offensive player but also has some bite to his game, which is important when the games tighten up.
"The thing we liked about him is it's obvious to see what he's good at with his skill set," Bowman said. "He's got good hands, great playmaker, he can do everything. Scores some beautiful goals. He does all the things that can wow you but then he does the other stuff, too.
"He was great at stripping pucks, he was great at backchecking, he was great at the physical play when the series got pretty intense in the playoffs and it was clear they were targeting him. He not only took it, he gave it back. It was impressive to see him raise his game at a time of year when it matters most which is playoff hockey. You watch the NHL playoffs and you see how intense it can be and then you look at the way he plays and you can see that that game translates."
History shows that Bowman tends to favor the fast and skilled players, as that's where the NHL has trended towards over the last several years. And that's still true. But it also shows he realizes there's still an important place in the game for players who can play heavy, and Dach is considered to be multi-dimensional.
"Part of the process is to project where's a player going to be in 2-3 years, four years when they’ve really established themselves in the league and you’re projecting what they can be — if each of these players becomes the best version of themself, what would that look like?" Bowman said. "In Kirby’s case, if he becomes the player that he can become — which remains to be seen, but it’s our job now to help him get there — I think we ask him to put in the effort and we need to guide him along as coaches and as the organization.
"But if you look at the player that he could become if everything works out and he reaches his most potential, that’s a really impressive player. And that’s the kind of player you can’t get anywhere, that can do a little bit of everything with the size, the strength, the skillset, the instincts and the playmaking and the intensity. I don’t know where you find those players."
Bowman had always said that NHL readiness is not a prequisite when weighing who to take at No. 3, but they're going to give Dach every chance to make the Blackhawks out of training camp for the 2019-20 season and there's a legitimate possibility that he does. Dach isn't your typical 18-year-old who needs to bulk up before he can handle an 82-game season and potentially playoffs playing against men.
And you don't have to look very far to see that more and more top draft picks are stepping into the league right away. The first four players selected in 2018 (Rasmus Dahlin, Andrei Svechnikov, Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Brady Tkachuk) each started and finished the season with their respective teams and made an impact.
Where Dach fits into the lineup in the long term will be something to monitor because the Blackhawks already have Toews, who's coming off a career season offensively at age 30, and Dylan Strome, who was also a No. 3 overall pick in 2015 and is expected to be in Chicago for a long time, serving as their 1-2 punch in the top-six. But that's a discussion for another day and a good "problem" to have because the Blackhawks' center depth has been the strongest over the last several years.
Ultimately, the Blackhawks are hoping that they hit the jackpot in Dach. They made an all-time great selection with Toews 13 years ago in Vancouver, and doing the same on Dach would be a franchise changer during a time where the Blackhawks were retooling on the fly.
While the pick may have been a surprise to most, what matters is the Blackhawks feel Dach is the right player that's going to make an impact on the franchise for many years to come and will be added to a core group that is striving for more Stanley Cups.
"He's got it all," Bowman said. "You see that when the game matters he can raise his game. Competitive kid, he really wants to be a player. In the interview process to try to get to understand them and see what motivates them, what makes them tick, I was really impressed with he wants to be the best player. He wants to be the best player in the game. He's driven to do it but he's really respectful though. He knows it's a process and it doesn't just happen overnight. I was just really impressed with his approach to the game."