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FEATURE: Dach Patiently Waiting for NHL Debut

As No. 3 overall pick continues to work back from concussion, he's taking in everything about NHL level

by Chris Kuc @ChrisKuc /

Kirby Dach isn't the only one in a holding pattern waiting for his NHL debut.

"As soon as I find out when my first game is, I'm going to call my mom and dad and let them know and I'm sure they'll be on their way out here," Dach said following Thursday's morning skate in preparation for the Blackhawks' home opener against the Sharks at the United Center.

The 18-year-old Dach, the No. 3 overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft, is working his way back from a concussion sustained during the Traverse City Prospect Tournament last month and has been practicing with the Blackhawks with an eye toward playing in his first NHL game.

The good news for Dach is that he is on the Blackhawks roster instead of that of his junior team, the Saskatoon Blades. It seems certain that Dach will get in some NHL games in before a decision is made on whether to keep him in the NHL or send him to Saskatoon for the remainder of the season.

Dach always envisioned that he would be with the Blackhawks at this point, but certainly not under these circumstances.

"I obviously wanted to be here but there are factors that are in the way that are preventing me from being the player I want to be and being out on the ice and helping the guys win," Dach said. "At the same time, I have to do everything I can in the dressing room, in the gym and being a listener and soaking everything in like a sponge with all the information they're giving me.

"It's my job to just be here and kind of learn and when my name is called I have to be ready to go and show what I can do," he continued.

Coach Jeremy Colliton said at this point the best thing for Dach is to continue practicing to learn the pace of the NHL.

"Training Camp would have been a perfect opportunity for him to slowly ramp up and get used to the level that he's going to need to be at to help us," Colliton said. "So we're just trying to make the best of it as far as the practice reps but also the reps after practice, doing one-on-one's doing battles and challenging him defensively. When you miss that much time, that sharpness that you need to succeed, we want to make sure he has it."

Video: Dach on healthy status

Though he has yet to appear in a game, Dach has impressed Blackhawks teammates during practices.

"He's a raw talent, there's no doubt about it," winger Patrick Kane said. "He's big, he can skate. You see a lot of plays out there where he's holding the puck, using his reach, putting it around guys and getting it back, so he's got ability that way. (It will) probably be more of a test to go right into a regular-season game for him, especially without preseason games but some guys can do that and I think he's physically mature enough where he can jump in and probably feel more comfortable than other guys would at that age."

Colliton said that when Dach does get the opportunity, he will be full-go against any opponent.

"I don't foresee having to protect him," Colliton said. "I think he skates well, he's got a good stick (and) he's a big kid. Those things help you survive defensively, but we'll let it play out."

Dach said that practicing with the Blackhawks has been good for his game, but he knows that playing in an NHL game will be a the truest test.

"With game speed you're never going to know what it's really like until you're out there," Dach said. "For me, it's about pushing myself in practice and in the gym to get to that extra level and be ready to make an impact when I get to step into the lineup."

Blackhawks veterans, including Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Zack Smith, have been especially helpful to Dach, doling out advice while taking the center under their collective wings.

"This is a good group of guys in here," Dach said. "They've helped me a lot. They know what it's about to be a pro and they're kind of helping guide my way through the league and understand that injuries are part of the game now and you have to take it step by step to make sure everything is good to go before you step out there.

"The big thing that everybody told me was to make sure to take your time," Dach added. "But at the same time, when you're ready to go make sure you're ready. I'm feeling good and I just have to keep pushing myself to get back into game form."

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