Kirby Dach has been the developmental story of the year for the Montreal Canadiens, but, with a return to centre, he may only be scratching the surface of his potential.
When Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes made the move to trade Alexander Romanov in a three-way trade at the 2022 NHL Draft that brought Kirby Dach to Montreal, he was betting on himself and his developmental philosophy.
“We’re going to invest money in developing hockey players and try to get the most out of their potential,” said Hughes after acquiring Dach in July. “We believe that Kirby has significant potential and we’re hopeful that, with the Montreal Canadiens, we can bring him along and get him to a point where he’s a pretty special centreman.”
Fast forward six months, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing out of Dach for the Montreal Canadiens.
He hasn’t disappointed so far, posting ten goals and 21 assists for 31 points through 48 games; which are already career-highs in goals, assists and points, with 34 games left to the season.
But what accounts for this developmental success? We take a look below:
Montreal Canadiens Vision
When Dach started the season in Montreal, even during the preseason, he was a refreshing presence.
He was the coveted play-driving type of centre the Canadiens needed; able to dominate in transition and make the right plays at the right time. His early success playing with Sean Monahan on the second line was a major reason for the Canadiens’ hot start this year; as Dach and Monahan provided the Canadiens with a stellar secondary scoring option before injuries struck.
Make it 8 goals in 12 games for Cole Caufield. Nice assist from Kirby Dach to set it up. pic.twitter.com/DqXXzKgwNO
— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) November 5, 2022
Without Dach, Caufield and Suzuki’s even-strength game suffered from an analytical perspective, owning just 37% of offensive chances while on the ice at 5-on-5 and having a lowly 26.44% expected goals differential.
Once Dach was added to that line, their even-strength numbers shot right up, going from owning 37% of offensive chances to 52.3%, and nearly doubling their expected goal differential from 26.4% to 50%.
Dach’s efficacy in transition offered Suzuki some reprieve as the constant puck-carrier on his line; while alleviating some of the defensive responsibility as well, making for a well-balanced line that would surely have a +5 chemistry rating in NHL 23.
But playing with Caufield and Suzuki also helped Dach develop his own game individually, as playing with talented players opened up the door for him to try and add some new facets to his game.
A Power Forward
What had held Dach back in the past with the Chicago Blackhawks was a lack of consistency in bringing pucks to the net and playing hard along the boards; in short, he didn’t utilize his 6’4, 212lbs frame to his advantage.
In his time in Montreal, Dach has been far more effective and surprisingly physical along the boards; bringing that physical element to every line he played on.
Using his size to go with his long reach and great stickhandling has allowed him to command possession of the puck in the offensive zone; giving him the time and space to make plays and display his creativity.
It’s no more apparent than when he’s lined up at centre, as he’s able to enter the zone with speed and is routinely able to beat players to the inside with his reach and enviable size.
Slowly putting it all together, and making him a more effective play driver in his own right.
— Hockey Daily 365 l NHL Highlights (@HockeyDaily365) January 18, 2023
More Than Just A Playmaker
Prior to coming to Montreal, Dach had amassed 19 goals in 152 games in his young NHL career; despite having a very heavy shot and an underrated release.
The issue was that Dach didn’t take many shots and, when he was in a situation to take a shot, would often choose to pass instead.
Playing on a line with Cole Caufield, you’re likely to want to pass the puck as well, but, as the season’s gone on, Dach has begun to use his shot more frequently.
Kirby Dach buries it 🚨 pic.twitter.com/8JtjgSPTaC
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 15, 2023
As irony would have it, nine of Dach’s ten goals on the season were scored in the high-danger area in front of the net; five of which have come in his last nine games.
Dach has clearly gotten the message, as he’s taking more shots on net, from better areas, resulting his his shooting average rising from a career-best of 8.33% to a more respectable 11.24% this season.
By getting into those danger areas, he’s getting access to better shooting options, and has begun to trust his shot more.
Kirby avait faim
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) January 25, 2023
Montreal Canadiens’ Gamble Paying Off
After a dip in performance during the month of December saw him register just 6 points in 15 games, Dach has come back in full force in January with 8 points through nine games.
His 31 points through 48 games put him on pace to score roughly 53 points this season, but, given the increased role in the face of all these injuries, he may surpass that number.
On top of his offensive spike. Dach’s overall work as a centre since being moved back to centre on January 14th has been notable.
He’s playing important minutes against the opposition’s top lines, while also sporting a 52% faceoff efficiency, and this against some clubs that are loaded at centre like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Florida Panthers, Winnipeg Jets and the Boston Bruins.
He’s seen his minutes rapidly increase in conjunction with his level of play, playing just short of 24 minutes on Tuesday night against the Bruins in what was his most complete performance of the season.
In the absence of Cole Caufield, Dach has stepped up in a big way to provide more offence and take control of games as of late; a sign that he may indeed have another level or two to reach before reaching his true potential.
It may have been one of Kent Hughes’ riskiest moves as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, but it could very well go down as one of his best when all is said and done; as Dach is showing signs that he’s not done improving.
All Montreal Canadiens statistics and heatmaps are 5v5, via NaturalStatTrick.com