The Blackhawks have lost six of their last seven games in regulation, but they could be getting a major boost soon. And it would come at a perfect time.
Kirby Dach was a full participant at practice on Monday at Fifth Third Arena and didn't appear to be limited in any way. He recently joined the team on their six-game road trip, which was clearly an indication that he's ahead of his original four-to-five-month timetable after undergoing right wrist surgery on Dec. 28.
But it remains unclear when the 20-year-old center could return to the lineup.
"We don’t have a timeline for him or a date set but we keep giving him more and more and that’s encouraging," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I think there's no reason to think there will be any setbacks. We'll just keep pushing him and we’ll see."
Dach was on the ice early working with the forward group in pre-practice drills then remained on the ice for the actual practice portion, which lasted roughly 30 minutes. He then moved to the second sheet of ice with the extras, likely for conditioning reasons, for additional work, which included faceoffs towards the end.
And he looked like someone who isn't far away from being cleared to play.
"He’s definitely taking contact," Colliton said. "Obviously there's different levels of contact. We’re trying to give him a little bit at a time."
Where Dach fits into the lineup when he's ready to return is the real question. He immediately becomes the No. 1 center, but would the Blackhawks be better off spreading the wealth (perhaps on a line with Dylan Strome, who's been moved to the wing) or overloading the first line with Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane?
The Blackhawks will have options and it could even allow them to transition Pius Suter to the wing to lessen his responsibility and allow him to focus on producing offensively.
One thing is for certain: Dach is going to play his natural position of center. His wrist injury isn't expected to limit his ability to take faceoffs, although the Blackhawks are going to be strategic with how they utilize him, like they did in the postseason.
"I’d expect if he’s cleared to play, he’s cleared to play," Colliton said. "I wouldn’t expect that he would play wing. That doesn’t mean he’s going to take all the faceoffs, but I think one of the things that makes him most valuable is his play in the middle and his play down low and his play defensively and his ability to push the pace from goal line to goal line. Covers a lot of ground.
"Whether he takes all the faceoffs, we’ll see. He didn’t necessarily take them all last year. either. We’ll also see how the team looks when he does come back. That typically is part of what you consider when you're building a lineup."