Blackhawks

Kirby Dach emerging as impact-type player for Blackhawks

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AP

Kirby Dach emerging as impact-type player for Blackhawks

One of the top storylines going into Blackhawks training camp this season was whether Kirby Dach would be ready to make the jump to the NHL full-time. It was a goal of his, too, ever since he got drafted third overall in June.

But after exiting early in the final game of the 2019 Traverse City Prospect Tournament, Dach was placed in concussion protocol at the start of camp and didn't appear in any preseason games for the Blackhawks. It was a challenge to stay positive throughout the recovery process, but Dach knew he would eventually get his chance.

And he's taken full advantage of it.

Dach made his NHL debut on Oct. 20 against the Washington Capitals and was lined up against Alex Ovechkin's line for the majority of the game, logging 13:41 of ice time as the second-line center. He scored his first career NHL goal two days later and registered an assist in his third game. Things were off to a great start.

But now Dach is starting to get more comfortable in the pros and his offense is coming more naturally.

"I’m starting to play good," Dach said. "I have a lot of confidence in myself and the team is playing good so I think that kind of helps out with individual success. When your team is going the right way and you’re winning games and scoring goals and your top players are producing — not saying I’m a top player or anything — but it helps a lot when everybody is going and we’re scoring."

After having only one point in his previous seven games, Dach has four goals and two assists in a four-game point streak. He scored twice in Sunday's 4-1 win over Vegas and joined Eddie Olczyk and Patrick Kane as the only 18-year-olds in franchise history to have a multi-goal game.

"He’s getting confident and he’s playing well," Kane said. "I think the biggest thing with him is he can skate with the puck and he can lug it up the ice. When you do that and you can drive the middle of the rink, there are going to be some opportunities for you and your linemates. You saw on both of his goals tonight, he drives to the middle, gets a pass and all of a sudden he’s in free. So that could be a big part of his game going forward but he’s really starting to feel some confidence."

Dach is up to nine points in 14 games this season, and his points-per-game average of 0.64 ranks fifth among all rookies. Only Cale Makar (1.10), Quinn Hughes (0.70), Martin Necas (0.70) and Victor Olofsson (0.70 rank ahead of him, but Dach is averaging the fewest amount of ice time (11:13) by a significant margin and is the only one on the list from the 2019 draft class.

"He's a tremendous talent," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "For him to step in as he has, he missed basically all of training camp and he's been a factor for us. He's helping us win. Got a lot of fun times ahead of us watching him develop and he's going to be a big-time player for us."

The biggest challenge for teenagers that break into the NHL right away is about staying true to who they are as a player. Most times, young players simply try to survive, and they get away from doing what they do best.

Dach isn’t showing any signs of timidness. He knows he can play at this level and wants to be an impact-type player in Chicago for a long time. 

And while he’s currently in a bottom-six role, expect Dach’s ice time to increase as he continues to prove himself as a high-end player. Because he can handle it.

"I feel kind of comfortable wherever I’m suited in the lineup," Dach said. "I just want to be in the lineup. I know whenever I step on the ice I have to be at my best to stay in the lineup and produce offensively, but at the same time make sure I’m good in my own zone and throughout the neutral zone. The one thing I’ve learned here is to have a good overall game and be a good 200-foot player."

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Four takeaways: Kirby Dach lifts Blackhawks to fourth straight win

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AP

Four takeaways: Kirby Dach lifts Blackhawks to fourth straight win

Here are four takeaways from the Blackhawks' 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at the United Center on Sunday:

1. Blackhawks keep rolling

The Blackhawks were coming off their biggest win of the season, a 7-2 rout against the Predators just 24 hours ago in Nashville. And they followed that up with a strong 60-minute effort against the Sabres, who started out the season 8-1-1 but are since 1-6-2.

The Blackhawks have scored the first two goals in five of the past six games, and 21 goals during their four-game winning streak. They also improved to 4-0-0 on the second leg of a back-to-back this season.

"It’s nice to get on a little bit of a run here," Patrick Kane said. "It’s something we’ve been waiting for all season. We play pretty well in these back-to-backs so nice to put a little stretch together and feel good about our game. Obviously we’re getting production from all over the lineup right now and I think that’s key if you’re going to go on some winning stretches."

2. Corey Crawford stays hot

The Blackhawks are getting elite goaltending from Crawford and Lehner this season, especially as of late. Crawford came into the matchup with a 10-0-0 record, 2.04 goals-against average and .924 save percentage against the Sabres.

He improved those numbers on Sunday, turning aside 33 of 34 shots for a save percentage of .971. He is now 3-0-2 in his past five starts after starting the season 1-4-0.

"I thought we played great defensively," Crawford said. "Even after playing last night, we really didn’t give up that much, I thought. And then got a lot more goals, too. That seems to be rolling for us right now."

3. Kirby Dach extends point streak

After recording only one point in his previous seven games, the Blackhawks' top prospect is starting to heat up. He scored twice on Sunday night to tally his fourth goal in as many games and fifth of his NHL career. He also finished with four shots on goal.

With the goal, Dach extended his career-high point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists over that span, and is up to nine points (five goals, four assists) in 14 games on the season.

Dach is the third 18-year-old in Blackhawks history to record a multi-goal game (regular season or playoffs), joining Eddie Olczyk (two goals vs. Detroit on April 10, 1985) and Patrick Kane (two goals vs. Columbus on Oct. 23, 2007). And he really tried completing the hat trick on his final shift with the help of Kane."

“I obviously wanted it pretty bad," Dach said. "Kaner gave me a couple of nice chances and I might owe him a steak dinner for missing those ones.”

4. Henri Jokiharju returns to Chicago

For the first time since being traded to the Sabres, Jokiharju returned to the United Center and did so as a member of the visitors. In fact, on his way into the arena he briefly got lost trying to find the changing room.

The Jokiharju trade was a controversial one because he was one of the Blackhawks' best defensemen last season, especially at the beginning of the season, and was traded for Alex Nylander, who was viewed as a reclamation project.

Jokiharju led the Blackhawks in even-strength ice time in his first 15 games under Joel Quenneville. But after the coaching change, Jokiharju's ice time averaged slipped and he was eventually sent to the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

"I think it's a little bit how the coach see you as a player and as a person," Jokiharju said. "I think that was one of the issues in here."

Whether that's true or not, both teams seem to be benefitting from the trade so far. Jokiharju has seven points (two goals, five assists) in 19 games with the Sabres. Nylander has nine points (four goals, five assists) in 18 games.

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Kris Versteeg pens emotional letter to Blackhawks organization after release from Rockford IceHogs

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AP

Kris Versteeg pens emotional letter to Blackhawks organization after release from Rockford IceHogs

Kris Versteeg made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks and won two Stanley Cups with the team, but his comeback attempt has ended.

Versteeg, 33, requested his contract with the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, the Rockford IceHogs, be terminated. Versteeg joined the IceHogs on a one-year AHL contract after last season, but was limited to six games so far this season due to injury.

“Earlier this week, Kris approached us about mutually terminating his contract, at which point we asked him to take another couple of days to think about it,” IceHogs general manager Mark Bernard said. “We spoke again Saturday morning and he had come to his final decision. Since 2007, when Kris first became a member of the Blackhawks organization, he has represented us with class and professionalism. He will always be a member of our organization’s family and we wish him and his family all the best going forward.”

Versteeg had two stints with the Blackhawks from 2007-2010 and 2013-2015, playing on the 2010 and 2015 Cup winning teams. He last played in the NHL two seasons ago with the Calgary Flames. He spent last season overseas in Russia and Sweden before signing with the IceHogs.

Versteeg wrote a letter to the Blackhawks organization that makes it sound like the end of a chapter for him:

To the Blackhawks organization,

It all started in February 2007, while I was riding a bus with the Providence Bruins. We were on our way to play the Manchester Monarchs when head coach Scott Gordon called me to come see him up at the front of the bus. Scott said “Steeger... I hate to tell you this, but we just traded you.” All I can remember about this moment was that my mind was racing. I couldn’t hear anything but my own thoughts. It was only two weeks prior that we played a team that was loaded with young, exciting, and promising talent. With so many young players I remember saying to one of my teammates after the game “I sure hope I never get traded there.” After a couple minutes I finally asked Scott and said, “to who?” Scott picked up a pen and a piece of paper then wrote…CHICAGO. The team no more than two weeks ago I was dreading at the very thought of being traded to. At this exact moment I remember looking at that paper saying to myself “this is not good!”

What I didn’t know at that moment, is that I was being traded to an organization that would not only give me my first chance, but my second and final chance. I would like to give thanks and show my sincere gratitude to John McDonough, Stan Bowman, Mark Bernard, Al MacIsaac, Jay Blunk, and of course Rocky Wirtz and the entire Wirtz Family. You brought me in that day and gave me a new home. This organization gave me everything that I have today, and for this I am grateful. I, as well, would like to thank all members of the Blackhawks/IceHogs organization from top to bottom, and most importantly… the great fans of Chicago and Rockford.

Little did I know that day when I saw Scott write CHICAGO on that piece of paper that this word would forever be written all over my heart, and soul.

Thank you for everything.

Yours Truly,

Kris Versteeg

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