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DACH'D AND LOADED

Top prospect Kirby Dach cherishing draft week as he reflects on his journey at surreal media event

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

VANCOUVER - The Beautiful, British Columbian backdrop supplied the appropriate setting for an event sure to change lives.

"It hasn't really set in yet, and I don't think it will until a couple minutes before the draft starts, but this is about as cool as it gets," Alberta boy Kirby Dach (pronounced 'Doc') said under the sunshine in Vancouver's magnificent Coal Harbour.

There, aboard a yacht befitting of the fame - and fortune - of the NHL dream soon to be realized, 10 of the game's top prospects gathered one final time.

As kids.

"This is something you only get to experience once in your life," said Dach, a Fort Saskatchewan product ranked third among North American skaters. "You've got to smile and take it all in. I mean, look at this...we're on a boat. At the draft. Cameras everywhere.

"This is what we've all worked towards, our whole lives."

With Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko sure to go 1-2 to the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers in Friday's first round, Dach could go as high as ranking would suggest, but he's trying not to let the pressure of that fetter a "cherished" week with family and friends.

 

Video: Brendan Parker sets the scene from Vancouver

 

"It's tough when you're on social media, when you have people tagging you, and in the dressing room when you have your buddies teasing you every now and then," Dach laughed. "You try your best not to focus on that stuff. … One way or another, a dream is going to come true tomorrow night. Wherever I go, I go.

"I'm not worried about it either way. I'm just enjoying the moment."

The rest is for us, the media, to worry about it.

With a surplus of American forwards, a sure-to-be-stud D man Bowen Byram and others - including Russian right-wing Vasily Podkolzin - making noise at the top of the charts, where the chips fall, one through 10, is making this one of the most intriguing drafts in some time.

 

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How this impacts the Flames - who currently own the 26th pick - remains to seen, should they choose to stand pat at that position, move up or down, or out of the first round entirely.

What is guaranteed, is because of the depth and quality of the high-end talent available, simply having that first-round choice to begin with is valuable currency, one way or another.

Dach is just one example - albeit, an elite one - of why the 2019 draft will be remembered this way.

 

 

A smart, skilled, two-way centre that lit up his age group last year, scoring 73 points (25G, 48A) in 62 games with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL.

He prides himself on his high, hockey IQ and ability to see the play before it develops.

And at 6-foot-4 and 197 lbs., he represents the big-body, right-shot pivot teams have a lust for.

Players like Dach - a Ryan Getzlaf comparable - and others like him simply don't grow on trees.

"When I got to go to Game 4 (of the Stanley Cup Final) in St. Louis, I really saw how big and strong of a game it is at that level - and especially at that time year," Dach said. "Sure, it's probably a bit of a step down in the regular season, but in the playoffs, everyone steps up and the intensity ramps up.

"That's the level that you, as a player, strive to get to. I know where I need to be at the end of the year to be able to step in right away."

 

 

Dach first tasted the WHL landscape at the end of the 2016-17 campaign, appearing in 19 games as a 15-year-old when the Blades finished the year banged up beyond repair.

It was a rare, almost unprecedented, number of starts for a player that age, but as the former No. 2 pick in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, this was no ordinary talent.

The early experience afforded him a full summer of training before getting back to the City of Bridges and truly beginning his WHL career later that fall.

Like he's hoping to do in the NHL now, just three years later.

"That physical development time, the maturity and understanding of the game that you pick up, that's huge," Dach said. "You learn at such an early age how to use your body most effectively against bigger, stronger opponents. To be able to get those games in right before the end of the year, and to go into the off-season with a clear mindset of what you need to really focus on and drill down into in your off-season training, not every player gets that.

"That taught me a lot about what it takes to step into a league early.

"That's the mindset, the goal, again now.

"And it all starts tomorrow."

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