Presented by Nationwide Insurance Agent Jeff Vukovich
The Chicago Blackhawks are assembling one of the best pipelines in the NHL as they continue to embark on a full-scale rebuild. And it's no secret which types of players they're targeting: Speed, speed, and more speed.
Stay in the game with the latest updates on your beloved Chicago sports teams! Sign up here for our All Access Daily newsletter.
However, you can't have every player bring the same skillset to the table. There needs to be the right kind of blend, and Colton Dach is one of the forwards in Chicago's system that offers a different package.
Dach is listed at 6-foot-4, 193 pounds and plays a power-forward type of game. He knows what his identity is.
"I want to show off my versatility as a player," Dach told NBC Sports Chicago. "I think I can play in a lot of different roles, whether that’s being physical down low or being hard on walls in the D zone and getting pucks out or being someone who can hold onto pucks down low and create scoring opportunities and making plays in the offensive zone."
Dach has displayed those attributes in his first professional season with the Rockford IceHogs until he was sidelined on Dec. 30 with a concussion. He was recently cleared for contact again and is expected to rejoin the lineup after the AHL All-Star break.
"He was really good for us in December," Rockford IceHogs head coach Anders Sorensen said. "He might've been our best forward in the month of December. The progress he made in October and November coming in was really encouraging to see for all of us and then unfortunately that concussion kind of set us back because he was a big part of what we did there in December, so hoping that he can regain some of that form and scoring touch and just nastiness to play against."
When Dach is in the lineup, he's typically an impactful player. The problem is staying in the lineup. He's had bad luck in the injury department since being drafted by Chicago in the second round in 2021, but part of that is because he plays a physical game.
It's always going to be a balance for him to keep playing with an edge while also avoiding situations where he's vulnerable.
"It's a great question," Sorensen said. "When he initiates contact, he's fine. He's really good. He's strong on his feet.
"The area he's got to be mindful of is how he gets into some of those situations or even when he's the carrier of the puck, putting himself in spots where they can take shots at him or guys coming in from his blindside and just making sure he's a little more mindful in those areas, and that's something you learn as you get older too. But it's something we're working with him on, just being assertive and knowing how to put himself in certain situations."
When he's at the top of his game, Dach is impacting the game in more ways than one. Another appealing trait of his is his shoot-first mentality. He has a great shot.
On paper, Dach feels like an ideal future linemate for Connor Bedard because he can retrieve pucks, be a net-front presence, shoot the puck, and protect Chicago's franchise cornerstone. We got a glimpse of that at the 2023 Tom Kurvers Prospect Showcase in Minnesota, where Bedard and Dach played together on the first line and really clicked.
"I think that’s something where you watch the games, you try to see how you fit in and if you ever get that call just to show what they want to see out of you and try to give it your all," Dach said. "But yeah, playing with Connor in the rookie tournament on a line we did pretty well together. Obviously he’s a special player. He can make something out of nothing, so just being someone who can support him and being that hard guy to come in the corners and get the puck for him."
Blackhawks assistant GM and director of player personnel Mark Eaton sees the potential for Dach to be a solid complement for some of the organization's skilled forwards.
"He certainly has that potential," Blackhawks assistant GM/director of player personnel Mark Eaton said. "He’s shown — when he’s stayed healthy — all the tools that you mentioned: the size, the skating ability, shooting, his willingness to get to the tough areas are all things that you need in your top-six in the NHL. The tools are there."
"I agree 100 percent," Sorsensen said. "He's got the size and he's got tenacity. His below the hashmark in the offensive zone game is really good. He's good off the wall, he's good around the net, he's crafty, he can make plays too in terms of slick passes and stuff like that. But I've been really impressed with that part of his game and because of his size too, he likes to get engaged, he likes to initiate contact and I think we're happy and excited about as an organization."
Once he finally does return to the lineup, the hope is that Dach will pick up where he left off prior to the injury and showcase even more of what he already showed in the first half of the season. He had 16 points (seven goals, nine assists) in 23 games and was just starting to find his rhythm and get accustomed to playing against men.
"On the forecheck, I’ve really noticed bumping into guys you’re not really getting your way every single time like it was in junior," Dach said. "That was definitely an adjustment. But I've really liked my game and how it's translated. I think my game translates to pro hockey pretty well, so I’m just going to keep bringing that power forward mentality."
The Blackhawks are going to be patient with Dach's overall development, so don't expect him to be a permanent part of the NHL lineup just yet. But it wouldn't be surprising to see Dach get rewarded with a taste of the NHL down the stretch if he's playing well, even though they probably want him in Rockford for the playoff push.
"I think just being patient with it," Dach said. "Obviously my time’s going to come when it comes and I think if you anticipate it too much and it doesn’t come, it could be a mental warfare with yourself, so just kind of sit back and watch and wait for your time and be down here and just give it your all. Obviously when you watch the games you see injuries, you have that little hope and little gut feeling but you can’t let that take over."