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2019 NHL Draft prospect profile: Kirby Dach has the talent, he just needs the drive

Dach should have earned a top-five projection this year, but some inconsistent use of talents allowed others to leapfrog him.

Steve Hiscock-Saskatoon Blades

Kirby Dach’s profile has everything an NHL organization could want in a forward. He has a size advantage on not just his peers in Junior, but also the majority of NHLers — and he might not be done growing. He is right-handed, which is rarer for players in general and is especially valued for pivots as it allows coaches better matchups. And he puts up points.

Birthplace: St. Albert, AB, CAN
Date of birth: January 21, 2001
Shoots: Right
Position: Centre
Height: 6’4”
Weight: 198 lbs.
Team: Saskatoon Blades (WHL)

Dach wasn’t always consistent in his production this season. He had a stretch of only three points in 14 games in the middle of his draft year, and that could be a concern for some organizations at the draft, but there is no arguing that when the centreman is on, he dominates. Despite the cold streak, he scored 73 points in 62 games. He also added eight points in 10 games in the playoffs.

EliteProspects

His production may not have been as impressive as in the regular season, but he was a constant performer for the Saskatoon Blades. He played some of his best hockey of the season against the Moose Jaw Warriors in the opening round on the way to a four-game sweep, and versus the Prince Albert Raiders, the best team in the WHL and eventual Memorial Cup contender.

Dach is a presence at both ends of the ice, which is reflected in his tracked numbers. He breaks plays defensively, and opponents often fall victim to his sneaky stick-lifts when they try to attack off the rush. The centreman has the highest backcheck involvement in all of the CHL players tracked.

Mitch Brown’s CHL tracking project

He is also used on the penalty kill due to his ability to intercept passes and an aggressiveness that can be useful in limiting the time and space of the opposition. When his team gets the puck back, Dach supports the breakout well.

Contrary to many Junior players, he circles low in his end or skates on the less-contested side of the ice, not rushing out of the zone but controlling his speed, stick down, ready to receive a pass. With sound habits and mobility, the forward also comes out really well in many transition categories, like the amont of controlled exits from the defensive zone and entries at the opposite blue line.

Dach may be 6’4”, but he has a deceptively good skating ability for his size. His forward stride has him lag behind the play at times, but he can fly up through all three zones quickly with the usage of powerful crossovers. As he shifts from side to side, he uses his momentum and his ability to quickly change direction to keep defenders guessing as to how he will break into the offensive end.

Add to his skating one of the best sets of hands in the draft, and it becomes very hard to stop a rushing Dach. He finds minuscule holes in which to thread the puck between sticks and skates, but his true ability resides in how he can set up his dangles with speed. He holds the puck outside his body to force a poke-check from a defender, only to avoid it and slide inside the dots with a rapid cut against the off-balance opponent. Even if you strip the puck away from him, he has a knack for immediately taking it right back.

Dach’s handling ability is also very useful in the offensive zone; he is a great puck-protector in the making. All the elements aren’t fully there — more explosiveness, better awareness, balance, and getting more space between himself and the wall to cut back into would make him more effective — but with his back to defenders and the play, he shows that he has a feel for where the pressure is coming from. He waits for the right moments to turn away, in the opposite direction of the defender’s feet, while keeping the puck out of reach by shielding it with his impressive size.

Dach is more of a playmaker than a goal-scorer. He has the hands to score in tight around the net by elevating the puck very quickly, but he generally is at his best acting as the setup man. His preference for passing is reflected in his advanced stats. He scores very highly on expected primary assists, but just about average for expected goals.

The centreman’s playmaking generally comes from attacking the defence, making himself threatening and relying on good positioning from his linemates as he sends the puck into dangerous areas after attracting the attention of defenders. Dach can make plays quickly, and do so off the rush with speed. But when it’s appropriate, he can just as well slow the game down and wait for the right passing lane to open, showing poise and patience.

Take a look at the first sequence in the video above, which was a great display of playmaking skill. He starts off the sequence accelerating through the neutral zone with a couple of crossovers. He picks up a soft chip from a teammate and breaks into the offensive zone. Dach isn’t one to routinely use deception (it could make his passing game even better), but it’s part of his toolkit. He fakes shooting from a bad angle, opens a cross-crease passing lane, and slides the puck over to his fellow rushing teammate ... unfortunately a step late on the play.

A few seconds later, on an offensive-zone possession, Dach takes the puck up the wall, dragging a defender behind him until he comes across a second opponent at the top of the faceoff circle. As the defensive pressure of both opponents closes on him, he sets up one of his own blue-liners jumping from the point for a shot on net from the top of the slot.

Dach then tracks the play back after a change of possession, picks up the puck for a third time at his own blue line, creates an offensive-zone entry with a pass, rushes in, attacks inside the dots, toe drags around a defender, and backhands the puck over to a teammate, with yet another cross-crease pass that is missed.

That was three great chances create by Dach’s movement and hands. The video continues with other notable playmaking shifts and passes from this season (e.g. give-and-gos, saucer passes through the Royal Road, lob feeds from his zone). He can also man the half-wall on the power play, and picked up some of his points hitting seams.

Rankings (not all rankings are final)

Button/TSN: #12
Dobber Prospects: #7
Elite Prospects: #7
Future Considerations: #7
Hockey Prospect: #8
McKenzie/TSN: #4
NHL Central Scouting: #3 (NA skaters)
Pronman/The Athletic: #10

Despite his numerous flashes, Dach’s production didn’t always reflect his talent this season. Playing against much small opposition, while having pretty much all the other necessary attributes to dominate in Junior, he should have added more points to his record and been a difference-maker every night.

He had a chance to establish himself as a clear top-five pick this season, but his year didn’t fully live up to his potential.

That being said, it would be surprising to see Dach slide very far on June 21. It’s still very likely he is selected somewhere inside the top five to seven picks because of what he represents. His package of skill for the premium position he plays is very rare, even pitted against some of the other names that are touted at the very top of the draft.