Wednesday's on-ice session at Fifth Third Arena brought perhaps the greatest sense of normalcy to date in hockey's return as the Blackhawks held an intrasquad scrimmage -- the first taste game action in over four months.
Team Black dominated the 25-minute, no-stoppage affair with a pair of top-shelf snipes from Dylan Strome and a net-driving rebound score from Drake Caggiula.
"When you go so long without playing, to process the game at high speed is one of the hurdles you've got to get over, so it was good to have the guys going today," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I thought they did well with the pace. We got a lot of good out of it and we'll try to carry that on."
The rookie spent the last four months back home in suburban Edmonton using his home gym to get stronger and the added down time to reflect on and recover from his season. It's paid dividends on the ice for the 19-year-old, who is noticeable stronger on the puck with more muscle on his 6-foot-4 frame, only adding to the raw offensive talent and speed he showcased throughout his first campaign.
"As you get older and more mature, you're going to feel stronger on the ice," he said. "That was a big thing for me during this break was to get in the gym right away and maintain my strength and try to add some size."
"(You) expect it almost, hoping that he would come in and look like he took another step just by being older and some months of training," Colliton said of the forward's return from the layoff. "Even if they weren't the perfect conditions, he was able to put some work in and get rested up. For him, it's a long grind when you're 18, 19 years old and going through that first NHL season. He's been very noticeable with his skating and confidence on the puck, even more so than (the regular season) and we're just excited to see him get back into game action."
In just a glimpse of game action, the improvement is already apparent.
Shortly after Strome's first goal on the day, it was Dach bringing the puck through the neutral zone with speed, playing a quick give-and-go off Duncan Keith before driving the net and leaving a feed for the defenseman near the dot. Keith put a low shot on goal that Caggiula stuffed five-hole for the 2-0 lead at the time, but it was Dach's effort setting up the play that wowed.
The Blackhawks hope it's just a sign of what's to come in the Qualifying Round and beyond.
"We think he can be really important for us," Colliton added. "He provides a lot of different things both offensively and defensively. I think we're going to see more production out of him as he gets older and more comfortable at our level and what he can do against NHL defenders and excited to see how that turns out."