When Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes acquired centre Kirby Dach from the Chicago Blackhawks, there was a certain element of risk to the trade.
Not only did the Canadiens pay a handsome fee for the young centre, including a first-round pick in 2022, but they also quickly signed him to a four-year contract extension.
It marked a fantastic opportunity for the Fort Saskatchewan native.
“It’s almost a restart for me,” said Dach. “The biggest takeaway I have coming here is to play free, be creative, trust myself around the net, shoot more pucks, and be that dual-threat player I want to become, trying to move past the last three years and put it behind me.
“I talked to Marty about playing here and having an open mind. I need to prove myself, and enjoy the game of hockey again.”
Hughes, ever the technician, was confident in his acquisition, despite Dach’s relatively underwhelming production and poor underlying numbers.
“Before every trade we’ve done, we take our time to do our due diligence,” said Hughes on Sept. 7. “We’re comfortable with Kirby Dach’s potential. There’s no such thing as being 100 percent certain in this business. But we believe he has a lot of potential, we believe in this environment, with our coach, with our development group, with the character in our locker room, this is a better environment for Dach. And in that environment, we’re comfortable he’s going to achieve good things in the Montreal Canadiens organization.
“Do we know 100 percent? No, but we’re prepared to bet on it. ”
With 5 points in 9 games, the bet is looking like it may involve a healthy return on investment, as Dach is well on his way to setting a career-high in points and assists.
Kirby's Dream Land, population: @CanadiensMTL fans. 🤩
— NHL (@NHL) October 18, 2022
When it comes to a 21-year-old player like Dach, there’s no doubt production is important, but perfecting a process that will allow you to sustain that production is also necessary.
And that’s where Dach has improved his overall play by leaps and bounds.
Joining a new team is never easy, and there’s often a learning curve that necessitates a grace period as to allow the incoming player to adjust to his new teammates and coaching staff.
That has not been the case for Kirby Dach.
From the get-go, he’s produced the type of underlying numbers that you’d expect from a player that had spent years upon years studying the concepts he’s tasked with putting into application in game-day situations.
Consider this: Dach currently sits second among all forwards with a CF% of 55.7. That means when Dach is on the ice, the Canadiens control 55.7 percent of the shots.
To give you an idea of how impressive that is, on average, the team itself only controls a little over 49 percent of the shots, and only five forwards have managed to push their overall shot control over 50 percent at this point in the season.
Last season, the Blackhawks only managed to control 45.6 percent of the shots with Dach on the ice.
As for controlling high-quality opportunities, during Dach’s shifts, the Canadiens control 53.5 percent of the high-danger scoring chances, making him one of only two forwards on the team that currently find themselves on the right side of 50 percent.
And even more impressively, Dach currently sits at 57.7 percent xGF%, the top mark on the team.
Expected goals for percentage (xGF%) is a statistic based on shots, but those shots have been weighted for shot quality, including factors such as the type of shot, the location, whether the shot was taken on the rush, or even a rebound.
It tends to reveal whether a certain player’s production is sustainable. And in Dach’s case, sustainability seems to be on the menu. At this point, it’s probably closer to an all-you-can-eat sustainability buffet.
As Hughes said, there are no guarantees in hockey, but despite paying a hefty price to acquire Kirby Dach from the Chicago Blackhawks, the early returns indicate it was a wise gamble for the Montreal Canadiens.
(All statistics are 5v5 unless otherwise noted, via NaturalStatTrick)