TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. - Kirby Dach knows his path to the NHL will be filled with twists and turns and obstacles along the way.
It's how the No. 3 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft navigates through them that will determine when he makes his debut for the Blackhawks - which could come as soon as the '19-20 season if Dach can stay on course and impress the organization's hierarchy in the coming weeks.
Dach took a rather significant step along the road to his NHL career with a standout performance during the Blackhawks opening game of the 2019 Traverse City Prospect Tournament on Friday night. The 18-year-old did more than hold his own in helping the Blackhawks defeat the Red Wings 5-4 in overtime on Adam Boqvist's game-winning goal - Dach was arguably the best player on the ice.
While admittedly battling a case of nerves from donning a Blackhawk sweater for the first time in a game against NHL competition, Dach scored the game's third goal from in close to help settle his psyche before putting on a dazzling display of puck management, slick moves, good vision and a bit of physicality the rest of the way. The performance came in front of many of the Blackhawks organization's decision-makers, including coach Jeremy Colliton.
"I think it's a good way for me to kind of get my feet wet and … hit the ground (running) in training camp," Dach said. "It's a good tournament, there's lot of high-paced competition."
Dach often set that pace and he later assisted on Boqvist's game-winner to give the Blackhawks a strong start to the tournament that will feature two more divisional games - including one against the Maple Leafs on Saturday afternoon - before Tuesday's championship round.
"You watch him and he's so skilled," said Derek King, the Rockford IceHogs coach who is behind the bench for the Blackhawks prospects. "He's very graceful for a big guy but the puck just seems to follow him around. It doesn't matter if it hits the dasher and it's bouncing like crazy, it just ends up at his feet or he kicks it up. He's a special player. The next level is even a different demon, obviously, but it was nice to see him do what he did. That's why he's the third-overall pick."
There was consternation from some when Dach was selected No. 3 but Blackhawks Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman jumped at the chance to draft a player with both size and skill. Dach is determined to prove Bowman made the right choice.
"There was a lot of speculation of who should go third and for a player like myself, I'm just trying to prove that I belong in that spot and I'm doing right by Stan and the organization that they made the right choice," Dach said. "The only pressure to perform I'm really feeling is from myself because I want to hold that standard and so far it's been good. I know there are going to roadblocks along the way - it's how I handle those that is going to make me the player I am."
Previous Blackhawks have used the Traverse City tournament to vault themselves from prospect to NHL player - most notably Alex DeBrincat in 2017 - and Dach is looking to be the next to do so.
"This is another stepping stone along the way to making my dream come true to play in the NHL," he said. "Obviously, there is still a lot of hard work to be done. It's an exciting time."
With Blackhawks training camp set to start next week, Dach isn't letting the lure of trying to make the Opening Night roster consume this thoughts.
"I try to stay focused on the now and I'm not too focused on what's going to happen and when it's going to happen," Dach said. "It's not my decision to make. I have to force the hand of Stan and Jeremy but at the end of the day, it's their decision. All I can do is put my best foot forward each and every game and show them."
Video: Dach, Boqvist, Gravel and Hagel on OT win vs. Detroit