The Montreal Canadiens believe that Kirby Dach is a centre in the NHL, and his upcoming second stint down the middle could play a big role in confirming that.
Dach being slid down to the middle has caught the attention of many across the league, as his success during this second stint as a pivot for the Canadiens could go a long way in influencing their organizational strategy in the next few months.
Trial By Fire
General Manager Kent Hughes and EVP Jeff Gorton have both gone on record that they view Dach as a centre long-term, and that his acquisition this summer was made so they could mould him into their top-six centre of the future behind Suzuki.
Head Coach Martin St-Louis is on the same page and explained that, most of what didn’t work with Dach’s game at centre in the past, outside of faceoffs, was confidence.
According to St-Louis, Dach’s lack of confidence is now a thing of the past.
“He just has to continue to play the same game. That he’s a winger or a centre, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like he starts a shift on the wing and then stays on the wing all game,” said St-Louis on what he’s expecting from Kirby Dach at centre. “I think his game is in a good place. I think he’s confident and I think that alone will get him to help another line.
For Dach, it’s now simply a question of taking what he’s gained playing on the top line and bringing it to his game at the centre of a scoring line.
“I don’t think there’s really a challenge I need to overcome or figure out,” said Dach when asked what kind of obstacles a return to centre could present. ” It’s moreso going out there and feeling the game and just going with it and playing.”
Dach doesn’t feel there’s a big transition to be made for him to go back to the position he’s played his whole life.
In fact, he’s happy to go back to what feels most natural to him.
“I always played centre, I always want to be a centre; it’s where I feel most comfortable,” said Dach about his positional preference. “But obviously, playing on the wing wasn’t too bad.”
Long Term Implications
With Monahan possibly shelved for a string of games, this second audition at centre could go a long way in cementing the organization’s plans moving forward.
Should Kirby Dach transition to centre and play to the same levels he has shown next to Suzuki and Caufield, then Kent Hughes’ summer gamble looks to have paid off in full.
It would further cement the notion that Dach is the long-term solution at centre and the Canadiens could focus on building out the rest of their future lineup via trade and draft.
That would be a huge relief for the Canadiens, who would then look set at the centre-ice position, as Filip Mesar and Owen Beck could be further eased into their roles on the club down the line.
An effective 1-2 punch down the middle of Suzuki and Dach for the next few years, at a combined $11.3M would be incredible value for the Canadiens and provide them the flexibility to spend elsewhere in their lineup to build a contender.
What Happens If It Doesn’t Work?
But what happens if things don’t work out?
Dach has already shown to be a very talented player, no matter where he plays in the lineup, so he’ll remain valuable regardless of where the Canadiens play him, but the 2nd line centre role is of paramount importance when building a winning club in the NHL.
It would likely prompt the Canadiens to focus their efforts via trade and at the 2023 NHL Draft to focus more on prospects with bonafide top-six potential.
It could also prompt the Canadiens to try and rehash their recent talks with the Winnipeg Jets over coveted centre Pierre-Luc Dubois.
It would certainly get management thinking, as they would quickly need to identify a running man for Suzuki, who is emerging as a No. 1 centre in the league and seemingly ready to make some noise around the league.
The good news for the Montreal Canadiens is that Dach has shown significant growth in his game in Montreal, but his success back at centre will have an undeniable impact on where Canadiens management go from here.