Second City Hockey’s 2022-23 preseason Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 series ranks the organization’s top 25 players under the age of 25 by Oct. 1, 2022. The rankings are determined by a composite score from all four SCH writers. Each participant used their own metric of current ability and production against future projection to rank each player. All four ballots will be released after the series is completed.
Although arguably a reach back in the second-round of the 2021 NHL draft, Colton Dach has made enough improvement in his first post-draft season to shoot him up to No. 16 after being unlisted in last year’s T25U25.
Dach had a 1.30 point-per-game rate this season, which not only led his WHL team, the Kelowna Rockets, but also led all Blackhawks prospects. This was also a nice bump from the 20 points in 20 games he had with the Saskatoon Blades in the season prior. While there were a few slower periods for Dach’s production, he was fairly consistent through the season at that pace. Dach went on a big hot streak down the stretch, and ended up with the 16th best points rate in the WHL among payers who played at least 40 games.
His playoff numbers were more disappointing — no points in five games — but he reportedly got banged up in Game 1 and moved down to the second line as a result, so that small sample shouldn’t necessarily be held against him.
With a near-NHL quality shot, scoring goals has always been Dach’s primary method of offensive contribution over the years. Last season, though, he took that up a notch by increasing his shot rate by nearly 1.5 shots per game over his previous best. Most of these shots came from mid and high-danger areas, but that’s fine when a player has the natural shooting prowess Dach has. Considering how willing he is to battle in front of the net, Dach could score even more if he would shoot from in-close at a similar quantity as from farther out. Instead, Dach primarily acted as a screen for his teammates or an assist generator when providing net front-presence.
Speaking of assists, Dach improved to be in the top-20 in assists in the WHL and had streaks where his playmaking was his most standout attribute. He isn’t particularly creative when it comes to his passing, but he knows how to create efficiently in the offensive zone and isn’t afraid of doing the necessary dirty work that shows up occasionally as secondary assists.
The biggest negative for Dach is still his skating, which was the knock against him prior to his drafting as well. While it has noticeably improved over the course of the season — especially when it comes to successfully traversing the neutral zone, as indicated in the above average zone-entry numbers — his skating is still a work in progress when it comes to speed and his general form. These are two areas that could limit him from reaching his highest potential as a top-six winger in the NHL. However, the progress he has made is definitely promising, and his skating is likely already competent enough for a lower-line role, especially for a player with a 6-4, nearly 200-pound frame
Another problem area for Dach this season was the defensive side of the ice, but he performed well in that regard in the past when put in a more defensive-oriented role. For example, last season, his defensive games score was in the 90th percentile of players tracked in Elite Prospect’s Mitchell Brown’s CHL microstats tracking project when in a lower-line role. This suggest that Dach still needs to learn how to be strong offensively and defensively at the same time, but the foundation is arguably there from which to develop. Whether Dach can find that balance — and improve his 48.8 faceoff percentage — will likely determine if he is more suited for center or wing as he progresses into higher leagues.
Dach is headed back to Kelowna for what is likely his final season in the WHL. It’s possible that he’s ready for the AHL, but considering how the Blackhawks are in just the beginning stages of their rebuild, there’s no need to rush any of their current prospects. This is especially true of players with skating concerns, like Dach, who will get plenty of time to work on his skating in a more low-stakes league before moving to the AHL for the 2023-24 season.