VANCOUVER - If you are wondering why the Blackhawks chose Kirby Dach, they have reason to believe that you are in for a pleasant surprise.
Dach, as in "rock," could be a star waiting to happen.
"He has everything to impact our franchise," said Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman at Friday evening's National Hockey League draft. "This is a great group, lots of talent. But if every first rounder reaches his maximum level, we think Kirby will be the best of all. Tremendous upside."
Video: Sights and Sounds: Blackhawks take Kirby Dach third
The Blackhawks really don't have to sell Dach as worthy of a No. 3 selection in a Class of 2019 steeped with potential. He sold them, weeks ago.They just kept a lid on a secret, shared only by the inner sanctum.
" Kirby separated himself after the Combine in Buffalo toward the end of May," added Mark Kelley, the Blackhawks' vice president of scouting who celebrated a birthday, no numbers attached. "Just the way he went about his business, plus, of course, with what we saw of him playing. There is nothing he doesn't do well."
At age 18, Dach is 6-foot-4 in street shoes, having grown three inches in the last couple years. He's probably topped out there, but could add to his 198 pounds before training camp. A right-handed center, Dach registered 25 goals and 48 assists in the rugged Western Hockey League, where opponents confronting his Saskatoon Blades treated Dach as special. They surrounded him, with the intent of wearing him down.
"But he showed plenty of push-back," said Kelley. "He's tough, strong with the puck, skates really well for a kid his size, and has a big reach with that stick of his. Which helps him not only in the offensive end, and in dirty areas, but defensively. He doesn't float back to his half of the ice. He breaks up plays. Complete package."
Video: Mark Kelley on Kirby Dach, Draft
So much so that, during last year's Hlinka Gretzky Cup, Dach took a whirl at another position for Team Canada.
"They said they wanted to win a gold medal and would I play right wing?," recalled Dach. "So I did for a few games, and we won the gold medal."
Kelley beamed about that one.
"Tells you of his character," he said. "Kirby is a confident kid, but humble, not arrogant."
After the Blackhawks surrendered an egregious 292 goals last season, there arose a plethora of fan-o-grams that they had to fix that. They still do, but Friday night's choice was never going to be a defenseman. There is an abundance of them in the pipeline, and they take longer to develop before teams know what they have. The Blackhawks are quite sure, this very minute, about what they have in Dach. They liked Alex Turcotte, another center, a local lad from Illinois.
But not as thoroughly as their career projections for Dach, who in Saskatoon wore No. 77, a jersey Hall of Famer Paul Coffey fashioned during a cameo with the Blackhawks in the late '90s. Also, not since 2014, Nick Schmaltz, have they tapped a forward in the first round.
For what it's worth, Rogers Arena did not quiver when the Blackhawks uttered Dach's name. As if pre-ordained, Jack Hughes went to New Jersey at No. 1 and Kaapo Kakko to the Rangers at No. 2. But after that, well, how many mock-drafts have been issued? Maybe 500? Or is that a bit low? Anyway, it seems that Dach was a top-10 in all, a top-five in a majority. Basically, the same core of elites just changed places.
Video: Highlights: Kirby Dach
The Blackhawks like that Dach is a pass-first visionary and love that he drives to the net after dealing the puck. Besides analytics and eye tests, what excites the Blackhawks is that Dach rises to the moment, like carrying his team in playoffs. Dach will mature, and the pace of the pros will expedite the process.
"He'll come to training camp like everyone else," concluded Bowman. "We won't force it, but if he forces us to make the roster…I stand by what I said before. He could be the best of all."
Better than Hughes and Kakko and all the rest?
"Best of all," echoed Kelley.
Whatever, in 2006, the Blackhawks emerged from the draft here with another No. 3, Jonathan Toews. On Friday night, three Stanley Cups later, they designated Kirby Dach as a pivot toward the turnaround, the next reign. The Blackhawks will embrace anything resembling Toews, and think they have.