One of the biggest storylines going into Blackhawks training camp last September was whether No. 3 overall pick Kirby Dach would secure a spot on the NHL roster out of the gates. Unfortunately for both the player and team, he was unavailable for the start of it after suffering a concussion during the Traverse City Prospect Tournament but ended up making the team anyway and stayed for the full season.
The feeling during training camp 2.0 ahead of the NHL's 2019-20 restart is much different for the 19-year-old rookie. After only four days, Dach has easily been one of the standouts of camp so far.
"I mean, I noticed it right away," Patrick Kane said.
"He’s been very noticeable with his skating and confidence on the puck, even more so than last year," echoed head coach Jeremy Colliton.
Dach looks bigger, stronger and, most importantly, is skating with the type of confidence that indicates he's trying to prove he can make an impact, not just survive on the roster anymore.
"As you get older and more mature, you're going to feel stronger on the ice," Dach said. "That was a big thing for me during this break was to get in the gym right away and maintain my strength and try to add some size, but at the same time not take away from my on-ice game. I feel like I was able to accomplish that."
Dach's rookie season was inconsistent, as you'd expect from a teenager who makes the immediate jump from juniors to the NHL. He had a career-high five-game point streak in November then followed it up with a 15-game point drought and only one point over his next 28 games. But he certainly got more comfortable as the season went on and never looked out of place, even during those low points.
After reflecting on his season and, for the first time in two years, having a legit offseason to recharge mentally and physically, Dach came into training camp looking rejuvenated.
"My confidence has always been high," Dach said. "I know the type of player I can be on the ice, and it's my job to bring that consistent level of effort and play each and every night. As a young guy, you try and learn as fast as you can, but there's going to be ups and downs, peaks and valleys, and you've just got to be able to come back the next night and try and perform."
If Dach can carry over his strong training camp into the postseason, he could be a difference-maker for the Blackhawks. And as a young player, there's no better stage to earn your stripes than performing at a high level during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"The way he plays and how good he is on both sides of the puck, he could be a big factor for us, especially in playoffs when you need depth scoring and you need players to play in all situations," Kane said. "You need to count on everyone on the team to be on the ice. Even though he’s 19, he’s a guy who can come in and play a big, heavy game for us. He could be a great playoff player."
Not only could Dach be a key playoff player for the Blackhawks, but this could be the year he takes the next step and shows his potential as a building block for the organization.
"He has all the potential in the world," Kane said. "I think he can be a top player in the league. ... He can be as good as he wants, you know? Time will tell. I think he’s had a great start for his career. It's not easy to come in at a young age and play. You can see the improvements throughout the season. He’s getting better and better, and he’s going to be a good one."