Kirby Dach’s former Blackhawks teammates recognized the potential he is realizing with the Canadiens

MONTREAL — Tyler Johnson was still playing for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2020 playoff bubble when he first saw him, unaware he would then be a future teammate. The Lightning were in the east bubble in Toronto, meaning the west bubble games were still running at the end of their games.

Johnson watched the Chicago Blackhawks take on the Edmonton Oilers and a player jumped at him. It was Kirby Dach.

“I remember seeing him in the playoffs the year he was with Chicago and he just had incredible playoffs, played really well,” Johnson said after the Blackhawks practice Monday.

Less than a year later, Johnson was traded to Chicago, a Cap victim in Tampa, and when he went to training camp he remembered the kid he saw in the bubble playoffs at age 19 but wanted him definitely get to know as a player.

“Seeing him at camp just watching his holds and how he was able to shield guys with his body and using his big frame and also his speed with his size made me feel like he was the whole package, where he’s been is going to have a really, really big year last year,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, I don’t think either of us really had a great year with the team last year.

“So it was one of those things, but I’m pretty confident that he’s going to be a really, really good NHL player.”

But the first thing Johnson spoke to Dach about was how much he liked him as a person and as a teammate, despite Johnson being injured for most of last season.

“I loved Kirby,” he said. “Last year I felt like him and I – I was injured most of the year – but even in the dressing room he and I hung out and talked. He’s just a great guy. He has incredible ability, with this big frame what he can do is really exceptional. Not many players can do that, especially at his age.”

And yet the Blackhawks moved away from Dach at his age.

Late in the first half of Tuesday’s game against the Blackhawks, the Canadiens killed a penalty kick. Dach was on the ice, as was Patrick Kane, his frequent linemate last season. Kane was handling the puck deep in his own end as Dach used his super strength, that extended reach and that active racket that creates rallies in bunches. Dach knocked the puck away from Kane, setting off a series of events that allowed the Canadiens to complete approximately 30 seconds of that power play, with the Blackhawks barely touching the puck.

Kane still has trouble understanding why Dach couldn’t be part of the Chicago rebuild, why he was traded to the Canadiens for draft picks, why Alex DeBrincat was traded earlier that day, and why even Brandon Hagel trades to the Tampa Bay Lightning became last year’s trading close. It may not be Kane’s problem much longer as he contemplates his own future with the Blackhawks, the only team he’s ever played for, but the organization’s lack of patience with Dach still baffles him.

“I’ve always loved playing with him,” Kane said Monday. “I thought he was a good centerman, he was good both ways, he could skate down the middle, lots of speed, ability to make plays. I think he was easy, especially in the beginning, he was very raw. I don’t want to say they rushed him but he probably needed some time to develop and you can see he’s had a great year this year. I’m happy for him.”

Patrick Kane and Kirby Dach. (Jonathan Daniel / Getty Images)

Tell me you think they hounded him without telling me you think they basically hounded him.

The Blackhawks are hardly the first organization to swoop a No. 3 overall pick into the NHL, only to quickly exit. The Canadians have done it twice in six years, after all. But in this case, the Canadiens are benefiting from someone’s lack of patience in ways neither the Carolina Hurricanes with Jesperi Kotkaniemi nor the Arizona Coyotes with Alex Galchenyuk have.

In fact, Dach’s development has reached hyperdrive this season.

When Canadiens coach Martin St. Louis was asked after his team’s 4-0 win against the Blackhawks on Tuesday why he thought Evgenii Dadonov had looked more effective lately, he cited the fact that he was playing with the roof as a reason for it. Badger’s view of the ice helps a player like Dadonov, and his willingness to play without the puck to ensure he’s moving forward helps someone like Dadonov.

“It’s a combination of many things,” he said, “but Dach is a great player.”

Earlier Tuesday, after the Canadians’ morning skate, St. Louis actually took offense at a question about whether Dach is starting to show the player he could become. It’s not slow at all, he said.

“I think he’s made a big step this year, so I can’t say it wasn’t fast,” St. Louis said. “I’m happy with the time it took me to really see what this guy can do and that’s on him if you know what I mean. It’s encouraging and fun to have a player like that on the team. It’s a good package. There’s not just one way Kirby can beat you, he’s physical, he’s got a hell of a hockey brain and he’s got some sandpaper on him. He can win puck fights, he wins back a lot of pucks. It’s fun to see.”

Dach was held back from the scorers’ list on Tuesday and had a dismal night in the faceoff circle, but neither has been exactly the norm for him since the calendar switched to 2023. He still leads the team in both goals (7) and points (12) since January 1st and confidence in his game is a big reason for that.

“You can just tell how confident he is out there, it’s fun to watch him do it,” said Christian Dvorak. “The speed he has and the size, you know he can beat anyone in a foot race. It’s fun to watch him carry the puck through the middle of the ice.

“He was so good for us.”

Dach was as good as his former Blackhawks teammates expected. Canadians should be fortunate that the Blackhawks organization didn’t share the same sentiment.

(Top Photo by Kirby Dach: Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images) Kirby Dach’s former Blackhawks teammates recognized the potential he is realizing with the Canadiens

Russell Falcon

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