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Dach finding his way, game during rookie season with Blackhawks

Forward looks to keep improving against Avalanche on 'Wednesday Night Hockey'

by Tracey Myers @Tramyers_NHL / Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- Kirby Dach is getting used to life in the NHL.

The 18-year-old forward has had a whirlwind rookie season with the Chicago Blackhawks, adjusting to everything from playing hockey on its highest level, to the grind of an NHL schedule and living in a big city.

"Each game and every day, you get a little more comfortable," Dach said. "You understand that I'm kind of here now and it's starting to go away that this is going to be the new normal for me and I think once I hit that point, everything will be good."

Dach is definitely here to stay with the Blackhawks, who play the Colorado Avalanche at United Center on 'Wednesday Night Hockey" (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVAS). He could have been loaned to Canada for the 2020 World Junior Championship, which starts Dec. 26 in the Czech Republic, but Chicago (13-15-6), which is last in the Western Conference, decided to keep him.

"Obviously, it was an opportunity that he had but he's playing really well," coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I think he's getting better and better and his minutes are going up steadily and there's an opportunity for more if he continues to improve, so we didn't really want to lose that momentum. He's got an opportunity to take a bigger role as we go here and hopefully he can."

Selected by the Blackhawks with the No. 3 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, Dach has 10 points (five goals, five assists) in 28 games. He had a five-game point streak from Nov. 10-19, during which he had four goals and three assists. Though Dach has no points in his past 13 games, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said he needs to keep playing to his strengths.

"He's a guy who, like myself, if you're not scoring goals, he's probably going to be hard on himself," Toews said. "It's not easy to keep your confidence when you're playing a third- [or fourth-] line role the way he has been. I think he's thinking the game better and better. Positionally he's really good. He's using his speed a lot and he's getting stronger and stronger in the puck area.

"I keep telling him to keep winning those battles the way he is. He can always draw one or two guys toward him and that means there are other guys open and he's making plays. It's nice to see him do those little things that eventually, pucks are going to go in for you."

Video: BUF@CHI: Dach flips backhanded shot past Hutton

Dach's scoring touch was evident last season, when he had 73 points (25 goals, 48 assists) in 62 games with Saskatoon of the Western Hockey League. Saskatoon general manager Colin Priestner has kept an eye on Dach this season. He said Dach has handled his transition to the NHL well and it's only a matter of time before Dach's "world-class hockey IQ and skill" come through consistently.

"He's been the best player on every team his whole life, and the biggest adjustment for all 18- and 19-year-olds in the NHL is finding a role on a team where you're not playing 25 minutes a night like you have been your whole life," Priestner said of Dach, who's averaging 12:08 of ice time per game with the Blackhawks.

"He had a stretch of games with a point streak, and I think he's like all young players in the National Hockey League: he's finding his way on both sides of the puck. But he has so much offensive vision and talent that I don't think it's going to be long before he breaks out and is a consistent contributor up there."

To help adjust to the NHL life, Dach is living with Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook and his family. Dach said he joked about the potential living arrangement with Seabrook at the annual Blackhawks Convention last summer but asked him again at training camp. Dach doesn't have any specific chores around the house, other than cleaning up after himself, and he's been a great playmate for Seabrook's son and two daughters.

"Yeah, they wrestle and climb on me, but I enjoy it," Dach said. "I grew up with two siblings and a couple of dogs, so I'm used to a chaotic household."

Seabrook's also given Dach valuable advice throughout the season.

"I've just tried to remind him who he is," Seabrook said. "The big thing is, you come to the NHL, you're caught up in trying to do all the right things and sometimes you forget what got you here and all of that. I think the coaching staff does their job of trying to get us all on the same page and we all have to get on the same page. But each individual guy here has the skill set and the better they do that, the better he's going to be. He was the third overall pick for a reason. He definitely has to play in the system, but he also has to let himself and his skills shine."

Dach has shown glimpses of what he can do in the NHL. With time, he should show those skills on a more regular basis.

"He's been improving, and he's been earning more and more minutes as we go, which is great," Colliton said. "I think the biggest thing I notice is his ability to come up with pucks, he has a heavy stick and is winning races with his skating. I'm sure he would like to score, and that's great, but how he's going to do it is by having the puck more and playing in the offensive zone. He's earning more and he's just going to get better and better."

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