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A year ago to the day Monday, Kirby Dach had surgery after breaking his right wrist during the World Junior Championship.
His wrist has healed since then, but in some ways the Chicago Blackhawks center’s game is still on the mend.
“It’s been a long year,” Dach said Tuesday. “Obviously I don’t think I’m where I should be, but that’s for me to clean up and get better. There’s a lot left on the table, still a lot of season left to get to that point.”
Coach Derek King said Dach is his own worst critic
“He’s hard on himself, takes a lot of pride in his game, which sometimes that’s hard to find in a young player,” King said. “Sometimes I forget — and a lot of people forget — how old he is. He’s just a kid.”
Dach, who turns 21 next month, went through an early offensive slump but has risen to fifth on the Hawks in goals (five) and tied for fourth in assists (eight).
However, King has ridden him about going after the puck, winning puck battles and getting into better defensive position to stop puck carriers.
And then there are faceoffs.
Dach’s 32.7% faceoff winning percentage is a career low and ranks last among the 97 centers who had taken at least 200 draws as of Tuesday, according to NHL statistics.
“My timing and speed and stuff is there, it’s just more technique and getting more leverage,” Dach said. “My arms are so long that I’ve got to get down lower and start to cheat a little bit better and just start winning faceoffs. I guess at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to, right?”
Said King: “It’s not easy. He’s a kid going against men, really, guys that are established faceoff guys. ... The only good thing out of this is it shows you where he’s at, faceoff-wise, and what he needs to work on, and he’s been putting the work in.”
Dach has been working with faceoff guru Yanic Perreault, who won 64.5% of his draws over a 14-year career. That includes some work this week at practice.
“When Yanic’s here, he breaks down the video with him and shows him where he can make adjustments,” King said.
Faceoffs may be Dach’s biggest struggle, but his offense also leaves much to be desired for a former elite prospect and No. 3 draft pick.
He went through a 17-game goal slump and has had trouble converting on rushes, net-front looks and setups from linemates.
“I never really want to be known as a guy who gets a bunch of grade-A chances and can’t score,” Dach said, “so I’m working on my shot and just trying to improve in that area where I can score goals.”
King is preaching patience.
Because of the pandemic and the wrist injury, Dach has played only 112 games more than a third of the way into his third season.
“He’s just got to keep honing his game, but I like where his game is,” King said. “It’s not like it’s an overnight thing, but it’s not going to be three or four years down the road until he figures it out.
“He’s figuring it out now and he’s just got to hone it now. I like the way he’s going.”