LOS ANGELES — If not for a few telltale pimples, Kirby Dach’s stoic expression and monotonous delivery would belie his youth. He carries himself like he’s 28, not 18.
But on Wednesday, talking to the media as a permanent member of the Blackhawks for the first time, Dach’s serious face had evolved temporarily into a slight grin.
“It’s thrilling and it’s exciting for me,” Dach said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed of for my whole life.”
Moments earlier, coach Jeremy Colliton made it official that the Hawks will be keeping Dach, their third overall pick from last June’s draft, for the duration of the 2019-20 NHL season.
Colliton and general manager Stan Bowman had sat down with Dach for lunch Tuesday in Nashville to tell the young center of his fate. But the impending game (which proved disastrous) overshadowed the news in Dach’s mind, and Colliton likewise didn’t tell the rest of the team immediately — Patrick Kane was pleasantly surprised to hear of it after practice Wednesday in Los Angeles.
“I didn’t even know that, so that’s great for him,” Kane said. “He’s a good player, and he’s going to be a really good player in this league.”
Now, Dach can finally settle in.
Logistically, not much will change: he’s going to keep living with Brent Seabrook, keep needing to prove himself against opposing defenders decades his elder and keep occupying roughly the same niche in the lineup. Mentally, however, this is a huge moment of affirmation.
“It’s a little more comforting knowing that I’m going to be here year-round, instead of that question mark that was always surrounding me,” he said.
Through six games, Dach has tallied one goal, one assist and nine shots on goal while averaging 11:59 of ice time, virtually all of which has come at 5-on-5.
Fans have clambered for Dach to get a look on the power play and in a bigger even-strength role, but Colliton said he thinks the youngster will benefit from the somewhat limited workload.
“It’s a long year — playing 80 games in the NHL is a lot different than playing 70 in the Western league,” Colliton explained. “Even the minutes, playing 10 in the NHL is a lot more taxing than playing 20 in the Western league or 15 in the American league.”
“We’ll manage that, and he may not play every game, either. He’s still pretty light and we need him to continue to…get his strength work in. And during the year, it’s difficult when you play so many games.”
Dach agreed his strength is the biggest area in need of improvement. He certainly has a big 6-foot-4 frame on which to add muscle, and he has looked top-heavy at times — especially against the high-flying Predators on Tuesday, when he went down too easy on a few occasions.
Nonetheless, Dach has shown a solid comfort level and upside-laden skillset impressively quickly, given that his concussion recovery robbed him of training camp.
The Hawks could have waited until the end of this California road trip — Saturday against the Kings, Sunday against the Ducks and Tuesday against the Sharks — before deciding whether to burn the first year of Dach’s entry-level contract this season. The fact they felt confident enough to do so four games early is noteworthy.
“He’s played well, and he’s shown he can help us, and he’s only going to get better,” Colliton said. “There’s likely going to be huge improvement as the year goes on. The player [he is] in February I’m sure is going to be an impact player for us.”