Kirby Dach's first surreal moment after arriving in Chicago for the 2019 Blackhawks Development Camp came Sunday night while he dined with fellow prospects at a popular steakhouse.
"A couple of people came up and said, 'hey, good luck for the season,' " Dach said Monday after participating in drills during Day 1 of the camp that will run through Friday at Fifth Third Arena. "It's a little bit surprising. In a small town you kind of know everybody and everybody knows you and you come here it's a lot bigger so for somebody to know who I am that's definitely special."
Things then got downright sublime for the St. Albert, Alberta native who calls the nearby Fort Saskatchewan (pop. 24,000 or so) his hometown when he bumped into Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews in the dressing room of the practice facility Monday morning. Dach admitted he "got a little bit tongue-twisted and I didn't know what to say to him.
"He's a guy I looked up to when I was little," Dach continued. "I was 10 years old when he was winning the Stanley Cup."
Eventually, Dach got it together and Toews welcomed him to the city and the team and the two discussed conditioning tests and the Blackhawks training camp in September. Toews concluded the brief conversation by telling Dach to call or text if he needed anything.
"It's pretty surreal to meet those guys and hang out with them," Dach said. "It kind of makes it more real that I'm here and I'm a known person."
Video: Mic'd up: Kirby Dach at Development Camp
Since the Blackhawks selected Dach with the No. 3 overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft, life has been a whirlwind for the 18-year-old center.
"It's been crazy," Dach said. "Being from a small town it kind of opens your eyes and you have to pinch yourself to realize that here in Chicago. It's a big city and it's loved for its sports. I'm thrilled to be a Blackhawk and I can't wait to do this for the rest of my life."
At 6-foot-4, Dach was hard to miss on the ice Monday and his fluid skating style, long reach and strong shot were pretty eye-catching too. Those aspects, as well as his hockey acumen and playmaking abilities, are what the Blackhawks hope will turn Dach into a franchise player, possibly as soon as the 2019-20 season.
While expectations are soaring, Dach isn't consumed with making the team out of training camp. He said that decision will be made by the Blackhawks hierarchy, including Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman and coach Jeremy Colliton.
"I try not to think about it," Dach said. "I just try to be myself on and off the ice and try and get better in the gym and add a little bit more size and strength to my body because I know to be able to play at the next level with men I need that size and strength to battle in the corners and protect the puck. I'm putting in every effort I can to get there and at the end of the day, it's not my decision to make that choice. I just have to make it tough on Stan and Jeremy."
Dach has also been adept at not letting the expectations that come along with being the third pick in the draft affect him.
"I know (with) that kind of stature of being the third-overall pick there's going to be some pressure behind it but I kind of just flush it out," he said. "The only pressure that's going to come from my performance is going to be (from) myself because I know how good I can be every day and I need to strive for that excellence."
To that end, Dach has been hitting the gym back home up to six times a week this summer as well as skating two or three times a week. And when he's not working out or on the ice, Dach is watching hockey videos.
"I eat, sleep and breathe hockey," Dach said. "I'm always trying to find a way to get better."
Dach's next stop following this week's camp will be Team Canada's national junior team summer development camp in Plymouth, Mich. before returning home Aug. 5 for a couple of weeks. He will then return to Chicago to prepare for training camp and his next opportunity to showcase his skills as well as learn a few things from Blackhawks veterans.
"When I come into the main camp I want to learn and understand what it takes to be a pro on and off the ice, (including) taking care of your body away from the rink and doing the right things that way," Dach said. "I want to learn from the higher-end guys in the NHL like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews (and) Duncan Keith. It's going to be special for me so I can learn from them things I'll use for my career."