Canadiens' Kirby Dach is making the Blackhawks pay for impatience

Montreal Canadiens' forward Kirby Dach is off to a hot start after a head-scratching trade out of Chicago last summer. (Getty Images)
Montreal Canadiens' forward Kirby Dach is off to a hot start after a head-scratching trade out of Chicago last summer. (Getty Images)

Patience is a virtue that is apparently lost on the Chicago Blackhawks. It’s a good rule of thumb to exercise restraint surrounding young players with top-three draft pedigree, but the Blackhawks gave up on Kirby Dach preemptively and the Montreal Canadiens are the great beneficiary.

Dach isn’t merely showing signs of potential, he’s been on a torrid scoring pace since being placed on Montreal’s top line alongside captain Nick Suzuki and sniper Cole Caufield. The 21-year-old recorded three goals and nine points in six games with his new linemates, while playing at a 70-point pace on the season. He’s creating chances in a multitude of ways since being shifted over to the wing, using his towering frame to his advantage as a playmaker.

The clip above is an excellent example of Dach thriving on the wing. Dach enters the offensive zone with enough speed to fend off a soft close-out attempt from Vegas Golden Knights forward William Karlsson, while Alex Pietrangelo continues to track him. Pietrangelo makes a key mistake, allowing Dach to stop and survey the ice from the boards. Dach’s size and ability to take the puck to the net is a threat Pietrangelo had to be aware of, so he’s not incorrect in his thinking to close out the inside lane. By the time Pietrangelo stops his own momentum to reach out and deflect the puck, Dach has already picked out a crashing Caufield, who wires it home. Dach’s massive reach allowed him to shield Pietrangelo, one of the NHL’s best defensemen and it provided a window into how he could be more effective on the wing permanently.

Dach is deceptively quick in transition and he can force opponents into key mistakes. Both of his goals against the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 9 were the byproducts of his opponents’ errors, with Dach forcing J.T. Miller into a turnover on his first goal of the night. Suzuki and Caufield have been picked on for their size, and now they have a veritable 6-foot-4 giant on their line, who can also blend in perfectly with high-end speed and playmaking ability.

“We all understand the game pretty well and have that instant chemistry where I feel like I know where Cole and Nick are going to be constantly,” Dach told The Athletic’s Arpon Basu on Nov. 5. “I feel like I know where they’re going to be and they know where I’m going to be.”

In the 70 minutes and 42 seconds that the Dach-Suzuki-Caufield line has played together, they’ve outscored opponents 8-3, while being outchanced 56-48 at 5-on-5, via Natural Stat Trick. The line also carries a 1.17 PDO. There’s some reason to suggest that it won’t sustain itself as one of the NHL’s most productive scoring lines, but there’s enough to indicate that it was a stellar decision by Canadiens head coach Martin St. Louis to pair three offensively gifted tenets of the team’s rebuild together.

Although transitive property is never a real method of evaluation, the Blackhawks ought to be kicking themselves, considering that Dach would be leading them in scoring with 12 points — Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are tied for Chicago’s lead with 10 points apiece. Dach was acquired for the 13th overall pick (Frank Nazar) along with a third-round selection in the 2023 NHL Draft. We don’t know how good Nazar will be quite yet, but it’s a puzzling move considering Dach’s age and skill set.

It’s not like Dach was falling way behind his draft class, either. Dach ranks third in career points from the 2019 cohort — he’s exactly where he should be, behind first overall pick Jack Hughes and ninth overall selection Trevor Zegras.

Chicago is rebuilding, no matter what Toews and Kane’s strong individual starts may indicate, and Dach would’ve been an outstanding building block for what will be an agonizing new chapter in franchise history. He fits Chicago’s timeline perfectly. Montreal is also in a rebuild of sorts but it’s also doing everything it can to remain competitive and it is just two points behind Toronto, Florida and Detroit for second place in the Atlantic Division.

Dach is just 21 years old and there’s a good chance he’ll come back crashing down to Earth while still amid a breakout season. There’s no reason why the Blackhawks should’ve punted on him so early as Dach has found a permanent home with the Canadiens, fitting into their timeline seamlessly.

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