Since it was confirmed by the Blackhawks that Dach would not be returning to the WHL, he’s become a nightly fixture in Chicago’s bottom six, with coach Jeremy Colliton giving him one night off as an apparent attempt at “load management” for the 18-year-old center.
The last time Chicago had top-three picks make season debuts, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were teenagers on a rebuilding Blackhawks team with little top-line talent. Consequently, they were thrust into the spotlight on Chicago’s top line, with Kane and Toews finishing first and third, respectively, on the team in points that season. Dach’s scenario is much different. With Toews and Kane still here, along with other top-six talent like Brandon Saad, Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome, Dach hasn’t been saddled with top-line responsibilities through the first two months of his NHL career — but Dach is still producing.
In a small sample, Dach has kept pace with the two players drafted in front of him. Dach’s nine points (five goals, four assists) in 14 games are in line with No. 1 pick Jack Hughes (19 games, four goals, six assists) and No. 2 pick Kaapo Kakko (16 games, six goals, two assists). It should be noted that Dach’s average ice time (11:13) is significantly lower than Hughes (15:58) and Kakko (15:18). The 13:46 that Dach logged against Buffalo was the second highest of his career, trailing only the 14:09 he skated in a 4-1 loss to the Flyers on Oct. 24.
Dach is also not benefiting from special teams play, averaging just 36 seconds of power play ice time per game while Hughes (3:30) and Kakko (2:56) see plenty of time with the man advantage.
More ice time differences
Below are the nine forwards, since 2015, who were drafted in the top five of the NHL Draft and went straight to the top of the organization:
2018 No. 4: Brady Tkachuk (OTT) 71 GP, 22 G, 23 A, 16:01 ATOI
2018 No. 3: Jesperi Kotkaniemi (MON) 79 GP, 11 G, 23 A, 13:44 ATOI
2018 No. 2: Andrei Svechnikov (CAR) 82 GP, 20 G, 17 A, 14:39 ATOI
2017 No. 1: Nico Hischier (NJD) 82 GP, 20 G, 32 A, 16:19 ATOI
2017 No. 2: Nolan Patrick (PHI) 73 GP, 13 G, 17 A, 13:43 ATOI
2016 No. 1: Auston Matthews (TOR) 82 GP, 40 G, 29 A, 17:38 ATOI
2016 No. 2: Patrik Laine (WPG) 73 GP, 36 G, 28 A, 17:55 ATOI
2016 No. 4: Jesse Puljujarvi (EDM) 28 GP, 1 G, 7 A, 11:15 ATOI
2015 No. 2: Jack Eichel (BUF) 81 GP, 24 G, 32 G, 19:07 ATOI
(Note: Connor McDavid also fits in this category but has not been included in this discussion because Dach and the above players are human beings. McDavid is not of this planet.)
The most noticeable difference between Dach and all of the above players is ATOI, where only Puljujarvi is within the realm of Dach’s current mark (and it should be noted Puljujarvi played 28 NHL games then spent the rest of the season in the AHL.)
In terms of average ice time by a forward on their respective team, here’s where the nine players above ranked:
Tkachuk - 8th
Kokaniemi - 10th
Svechnikov - 7th
Hischier - 5th
Patrick - 8th
Matthews - 1st
Laine - 3rd
Puljujarvi - 12th
Eichel - 3rd
Dach is currently 11th on the Blackhawks. All of the players above saw more power play ice time than Dach, ranging from Eichel’s 3:02 per game to Puljujarvi’s 0:49 per game in their rookie seasons.
What does all of this mean for Dach’s expectations?
All of this data is to say that any projections for Dach’s statistics this season must account for the fact that he’s getting significantly less ice time — at even-strength and on the power play — than any of the comparable players above. It seems like Kotkaniemi’s rookie season in Montreal is the best available comparison, given that Kotkaniemi’s ice time is most in line with Dach’s, making a point total in the 35-40 range a decent expectation for Dach. But that bar could be raised significantly if Dach’s ice time increases, especially if power play minutes are included in that equation.
The overall positive here, though, is Dach has done nothing to diminish the hype surrounding Chicago’s first top-five pick since 2007. And more ice time could lead to more nights like Dach’s No. 1 Star performance against the Sabres.