Montreal Canadiens forward Kirby Dach enjoyed quite a resurgence last season following his abrupt departure from the Chicago Blackhawks.
And now that he’s enjoyed a small taste of success, he’s hungry for more.
Dach scored 14 goals in 54 games last season, which pro-rates to a 21-goal, 82-game season. It was a significant improvement over his previous scoring rates, but like any good athlete, he knows that to reach the next level he must improve the details in his game, including perfecting his shot.
To accomplish this goal, Dach turned to NHL shooting expert Tim Turk, one of the most affable, engaging characters in the hockey world. Turk has worked with players like Connor Bedard, not to mention current Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher, who scored back-to-back 30-goal seasons despite dropping to the fifth round in his draft year.
Improving Kirby Dach And His Shooting Mechanics
“My specialty is shooting and scoring on the technical side of things,” explains Turk. “A lot of people don’t understand that when you shoot the puck there’s a lot of bio-mechanical stuff going on. To succeed at my specialty, I need to be able to observe what each player does, and how they do it. Because everyone is like a fingerprint out there. They all do things differently. My job is to modify details.”
Fresh off a week-long session with both Kirby and his brother Colton, among others, Turk generously offered to give us some insight as to what Dach was looking to improve heading into the 2023-24 season.
The first thing you must know about Dach is that he epitomizes the humble, hard-working player that coaches love to work with. He pays close attention to instructions from his coaching staff, quickly putting theory into application once the opportunity arises.
You may be thinking that’s par for the course, but many of these players have long established their preferred style of play, which can make changing their approach a daunting challenge.
“Dach’s ability to want to improve, his work ethic, is impressive,” said Turk, “The toughest part about my job is having the players make the modification, and it for to not be uncomfortable for them. It’s a challenge, and it’s a very healthy challenge for me.”
Turk’s workload goes beyond improving shots, which speaks to the importance of having a well-rounded game at the highest levels of competition.
“I want to help them produce more offensive opportunities. But to shoot a puck, you need to know how to skate. To be able to shoot a puck, you have to be able to handle it. So we have to touch on the preparation side, to ensure we stabilize the body. If I find something that needs to be modified, I try to focus on what part of the modification they’re already doing very well. So when you explain to the player what they’re doing well, it connects the mind to the action. It connects the feel of things to the output, to the actual result. Once that is in place, we start working on improving the smaller details.”
Mind The Gap
One of the things Turk hits on with impressive consistency is how players can make life more difficult on goaltenders. These days, goaltenders have access to all sorts of information and game tape, which makes scouting shooters a much easier task.
“Dach can release the puck in a condensed area. One of the things I mentioned to him, is when you make it condensed, when you’re compacting things, you have to add to it, to help it succeed. With Kirby, I told him to add a little movement to his shot, to avoid having a predictable angle of attack. That comes with the wrists. So I said, “Just when the puck is leaving your stick, activate your wrists more, and that will create a spin on the puck.” And if the puck spins tighter, it moves faster through the air.”
Turk also focuses on closing down what I like to call the “shooting gap”, the space that appears between a player’s arms and his body prior to a shot.
Traditionally, players open up the gap prior to shooting, tipping off goaltenders about their intentions. Cole Caufield, in particular, is great at closing down the ‘shooting gap’, a process that Turk likens to an old west cowboy shooting from the hip.
It’s not something players with a 6’4″ frame can do easily.
“It isn’t normal. for a guy that big to be able to close the gap,” said Turk. “Usually the guys who have more vertical advantage, their extremities are longer. So to be able to get that puck in close can be uncomfortable. That’s when we talk about the angles of things. The closer you get your arm toward your body, the more deceptive it is to read when the puck is coming off the stick.”
By keeping the gap as tight as possible, Dach can mask his true intentions.
“Carey Price will tell you when he sees the gap, he knows a shot is coming. But when he can’t see any space between the arms and the body, it’s very difficult to anticipate,” explains Turk. “Knowing what the goalie sees is very important, too.”
That’s the type of approach that differentiates Turk from most skills coaches. He’s not just coaching from a shooter’s point of view.
Kirby Dach In Transition
However, if there was one criticism to be had when discussing Dach’s first few games with the Canadiens, it was that he tended to carry the puck a little too far from his body while he was in transition, which gave opposing defencemen ample opportunities to disrupt the telegraphed rush.
Dach quickly improved upon the weakness, which did not surprise Turk.
“One thing you’ll notice with him is that he’s getting more comfortable with the Montreal Canadiens,” explains Turk. “And when that happens, the posture drops a little bit. The lower the body gets, the more stable it is, and the better the reaction time. Puck positioning and his arm positioning will help him in transition. An underexposed puck on the forehand side is the most lethal thing that a player can have. Most of the time, the players who are accelerating through the neutral have the puck in front of them. But the players who keep it a little more off to the side? That’s when they become a quadruple threat. It’s really hard for a defence to stop. You’re creating time and space, and not giving the defence a chance to easily analyze the situation and quickly react.”
As for his future, Turk is not particularly worried about Dach’s usage, which has alternated between playing as a winger on the top line and playing as a centre on the second trio.
He doesn’t think it will have an impact on Dach’s shooting opportunities.
“No, but that’s a great question,” exclaims Turk. “With Kirby Dach, specifically, it’s not an issue. Because he’ll find a way to get to the middle lane anyway. His natural mindset is to create open ice and then take it. We worked on that. If he’s going to take middle ice, depending on his attack angle, we’re working on his inward angle pull, to bring the puck around a defenceman’s stick or hip, to get it through to the net. Dach really attacked the defence last season, but once he got in tight, it limited what he could do with his shot release. Now we’re working on creating more of a gap. He can be six or seven feet away, and once the puck is shot, that turns the defence around, creating chaos, which should lead to second-chance scoring opportunities.”
Stay tuned for part two of our interview with shooting coach Tim Turk, in which we discuss more topics related to Kirby Dach, including his fight with Andrew Copp, his reaction following the trade to the Canadiens, how Turk re-establishes confidence once a player hits a streak of bad luck, and why shooting like a “spy” is one of the most dangerous weapons in the NHL.
We will also be releasing a collection of Turk’s stories during his time as a shooting coach for the Canadiens, involving players such as Carey Price, Andrei Markov, Alex Kovalev, and Nathan Beaulieu, as well as the former coach, Michel Therrien.