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2022 Montreal Canadiens Top 25 Under 25: #5 Kirby Dach

Despite a tough season, Kirby Dach sees a new opportunity to reach his potential with the Montreal Canadiens

NHL: JAN 15 Blackhawks at Canadiens Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On the floor for the 2022 NHL Draft, Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes decided to pull off a blockbuster move. He sent Alexander Romanov and pick 98 to the New York Islanders for 13th overall, which was then traded along with pick 66 to the Chicago Blackhawks for Kirby Dach.

This transaction was done in the hope of acquiring a solid number-two centre to support Nick Suzuki in the lineup. It’s something the Blackhawks didn’t feel they could make work in their own organization, but Montreal clearly has more faith in Dach’s outlook.

Elite Prospects

Dach had an up-and-down 2021-22 regular season, with moments of inconsistency in the faceoff circle, and just 26 points in 70 games; about the same as what he had produced in his rookie season a couple of years earlier. With that performance coming off a season in which he played only 18 games, you can understand why Chicago was concerned about his future.

Montreal is putting a lot of hope in the untapped potential of the young centreman, and believes that Martin St. Louis is going to help unlock his latent talent.

Voting

Dach received one vote in the top three, but he generally fell in the range of fifth to seventh on the ballots. I ranked him at sixth hoping this coming year he will surprise most of us with his newfound drive to prove his old franchise wrong.

History of #5

Year #5
Year #5
2021 Kaiden Guhle
2020 Mattias Norlinder
2019 Nick Suzuki
2018 Charles Hudon
2017 Charles Hudon
2016 Artturi Lehkonen
2015 Charles Hudon
2014 Michaël Bournival
2013 Brendan Gallagher
2012 Nathan Beaulieu
2011 Nathan Beaulieu
2010 Louis Leblanc

Strengths

Most of Dach’s success on the ice come own to his size. At 6’4’’ and 197 pounds, he is a specimen of strength, finesse, and speed on the ice, using these physical gifts to pursue the puck and pressure defenders. He has good hands, able to easily dangle through defenders to create scoring opportunities.

He understands how to use his long reach to his benefit. He can easily protect the puck in the offensive zone and maintain possession. His reach and positioning help him to be an effective penalty-killer when they’re used well. He is also a good net-front presence on the power play, using his quick feet to get to the right spots and block the goalie’s view.

He excels at transitioning the play, combining all of his skills to gain the opposing blue line quickly and make the defenders back off due to his closing speed. This opens up lanes for passes and leaves him positioned for scoring chances.

Weaknesses

Hughes obviously saw the promise in the young centre, even after three years in the NHL. The Canadiens get an opportunity to cultivate a 21-year-old centre who should still have room to grow. Yet even with all of his strengths, there are reasons why he has not been what you would expect from a big forward who can skate.

His inability to win faceoffs was one of the key factors that Chicago deemed detrimental enough to trade away a 21-year-old center. He was quite bad in that department, with a win rate of 32.8% for dead last in the NHL; not ideal for a player whose skills have best manifested on the defensive side of the game at this stage.

The one area that lacks the most on defence is physicality, and that is perhaps the underlying issue his former team had with his game. Faceoffs are often a contest of will to fight for a puck, as are board battles in a player’s own zone, both of which are major weaknesses in Dach’s game. His positioning and anticipation are strong, and those talents help him close down passing lanes are turn possession, but he doesn’t force the issue on his own by overpowering opponents and stripping them of the puck.

Wanting to match power with power, the Blackhawks’ coaches typically decided to use him against the best players on the opposing team. As they tend to also be the hardest workers, Dach’s passiveness when engaged in close-checking battles was only amplified in those difficult deployments.

On top of those concerns, there are significant ones about his lack of finishing ability. Even in his Junior days he was never a big point-producer, and 19 goals from 152 NHL games is a disappointing total for any high draft selection.

Projection

It is important to acknowledge both Dach’s strengths and weaknesses as he prepares for his debut with the Canadiens. All in all, there is more good than bad when it comes to his game, and he is still young enough to fix the glaring issues.

He should never be seen as a bruising, heavy, physical and imposing player just because he happens to be tall. He should instead be seen as a excellent transition player, good at intercepting pucks, pushing the play, gaining the zone, and setting up plays, all by using the reach that his height gives him.

All of those minutes versus top players started to pay off toward the end of last season, as his game away from the puck showed improvement as the year went on. It’s a trajectory Montreal will try to maintain.

At the end of the day, Dach has the skill, the speed, and hockey sense to be a talented two-way player. Now he needs more consistency, further development, and a shift in perception of what kind of player he is to reach his potential.


Listen to our thoughts on Kirby Dach in the next episode of Habsent Minded: