A towering right-handed centre with fantastic playmaking abilities… what is there not to like?
Kirby Dach has been regularly ranked in the top five of this draft class for the entire season, and for good reason. When on his game, the Saskatoon Blades centre is a fantastic player that effectively uses his large frame to dictate play.
Dach had a great season that unfortunately ended with him declining an invite to the U18 World Juniors due to injury.
Today we’ll take a closer look at Kirby Dach.
- Age/Birthdate: 18 / Jan 21, 2001
- Birthplace: St Albert, AB, CAN
- Frame: 6-foot-4 / 198 lbs
- Position: Centre
- Handedness: Right
- Draft Year Team: Saskatoon Blades (WHL)
- AMBHL Most Assists (71)
- AMBHL Most Points (100)
- AMBHL Most Valuable Player
- AMBHL Top Forward
- U16 WCCC Gold Medal
- WHL Most Assists by Rookie (39)
- Hilinka Gretzky Cup Champion
- Hlinka Memorial Gold Medal
2018-19 Stat Rundown
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The first thing that stands out about Kirby Dach on the ice is how big he is. Measuring in at 6-foot-4 and 198 pounds, Dach certainly has the frame to allow him to control and protect the puck with ease. When he drops his shoulder and drives the net, there aren’t many players in the WHL that can stop him or even redirect him from his path to the goal.
Dach isn’t much of a physical player in the body-checking sense, but can absorb contact along the boards fairly well. That size and puck protection allow him to work his magic with the puck. For a big guy, Dach has some soft hands that he uses to control the puck both in tight and at arm’s length. He is strategic in how he carries the puck, using that combination of size, handling, and reach to ensure that the puck is kept at a distance from his opponents.
Dach makes use of his fine puck-handling in his playmaking abilities, which are his biggest strength. He has a full toolbox of passing plays that allow him to exploit his opponents’ coverage and set up his teammates in prime scoring positions. As mentioned, he does drive the net when the opportunity arises, but more often than not will defer making the pass instead.
While he isn’t a dynamic playmaker like some of the other players at the top of this draft class, he instead utilizes his size to create space and draw defenders and then flip it to an unmarked teammate. His awareness and patience allow him to excel in this aspect, with a knack for waiting just the right amount of time for his teammates to get into the space that he already sees.
Ideally, he becomes more confident with his goal-scoring abilities and acts a little more selfishly in generating individual chances. This would allow him to take another step forward offensively. When he goes for a drive, it’s a treat to watch:
Often, with a player of his size, there are some concerns about their skating as they lack the ability to quickly accelerate from a stopped position; there is a bit of that with Dach. It isn’t an issue that will hold him back long term, but he isn’t able to create separation from a starting position.That being said, if he has the space to get two or three full strides, his leg strength and extension allow him to get to a good top speed. There are no concerns about his overall skating; despite lacking the two-step quickness, he is surprisingly agile for such a large guy.
If there is one other concern with regard to his game, it’s that he can be too patient when stick-handling or waiting for the puck to come to him. On a number of occasions throughout this season, Dach got absolutely levelled while looking at the pass coming to him rather than taking a step forward to obtain it, or when trying to move around the zone with possession. The opposing defenceman would line him up and sit him down. He will need to be more active in his puck reception rather than waiting for the pass to get to him and ensure that he keeps his head up while moving around the opponent’s zone.
On the defensive side of the game, Dach is effective in the middle of the ice at directing opponents out of the home plate area. The attributes that make him so effective in the offensive zone translate to the defensive zone effectively. He can sometimes get caught flatfooted by an opponent attacking from the wall or the point, but nothing that would be of great concern.
There has been some criticism of his overall compete level, and there are times when that criticism is warranted. But like his skating, this isn’t something to be worried about in the long term. It is, however, something that drafting teams should keep an eye on and look to correct sooner rather than later, should they deem it an issue.
Dach has been part of the ‘Big Three WHL Centres’, along with Peyton Krebs and Dylan Cozens, since before this season even began, and rightfully so. His skill set is so intriguing and will very easily translate to the NHL level.
It’s interesting to note that after Krebs, Dach and Cozens went 1st, 2nd and 19th, respectively, in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, the order could feasibly be reversed on draft day. Then again, Dach could be the first off the board; NHL drafts are highly unpredictable in that way.
Given his size and production, his cohort matches are a little small:
With a cohort of 43 matches, his expected likelihood of NHL success checks in at 42% with an expected production rate of 50.4 points per 82 games played. Ryan Getzlaf, whom Dach is frequently compared with stylistically, appears as a match, as do the likes of Andrew Ladd, Ryan Smyth and Shane Doan.
Of the comparables that became NHL regulars, the majority did so as top six forwards, and that is likely the role that Dach will trend towards. That 42% is fourth among WHL players and 23rd among all draft-eligible players this year.
Dach ranked third in assists among first-time WHL draft-eligible players, trailing only Cozens and Krebs. His 25 goals had him sixth among that same peer group. He also ranked 16th in SEAL adjusted scoring rate in this draft class:
One thing stood out to me about his season and it was his dip in production at the mid-way point of the year:
That cold spell corresponds to a drop in estimated ice time, which, given the time frames, may have been as much a reaction to his lack of production as a potential cause of it.
From my observations, it felt like Dach was struggling to make things happen. There were a handful of plays that he could’ve handled better, but it was clear that he was visibly frustrated. It’s encouraging to see that he worked through that dry spell and was able to have a strong second half to his season.
In general, Dach’s underlying numbers are a little lukewarm, but they don’t present any major concerns for his long-term potential in professional hockey.
When Dach is on his game, as we saw the Hlinka Memorial Cup to start this season, there aren’t many other players in this draft class that can keep up. The criticisms about lack of compete are valid, as he would seem to have a lazy game or two but would then follow them up with a few games in which he was fantastic. It could just be a matter of which games you watched.
It’s clear that consistency will be something that he will need to work on over the next few years, but he has all the makings of being a really effective playmaking top-six centre in the NHL. Unless there are other underlying issues that we aren’t aware of, he will almost certainly be gone within the top 10 of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft
Rolling Season Data
Raw data for the charts used in this article came from eliteprospects.com and WHL.ca
Some clips were pulled from videos from prospectshifts.com. Check out Kirby Dach’s page here (paywall). Other clips were pulled from original broadcasts, with all rights reserved for the original broadcast companies.
Founder and analyst for NextGenHockey.ca — Contributor to The Athletic Vancouver, EliteProspects, CanucksArmy, and Canucks.com.
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