After missing the first 34 games because of a right wrist injury, Kirby Dach made his much-anticipated season debut on Saturday at the United Center. But the party was spoiled by a 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators, who have pulled within two points of the No. 4 spot in the Central Division.
"It felt good," Dach said. "Obviously, there’s still some things that I’d like to get better at, but that doesn’t include what’s going on with my wrist and injury-wise. I felt good out there. It’s good to get back in the swing of things. I think there’s still another level that I can take my game to to help the team win here."
Dach started the game as the third-line center alongside Mattias Janmark and Dylan Strome but played with Patrick Kane in the third period when the Blackhawks were trailing by two. And he didn't look limited in any way.
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The 20-year-old center recorded four shot attempts (one on goal), won four of 10 faceoffs and logged 20:08 of ice time, which ranked third among team forwards; only Alex DeBrincat (23:03) and Kane (23:07) had more.
"I thought he did well," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "Skated well, was aggressive and won some races and made some plays. Obviously you can see he’s going to help us. And he’ll keep getting better the more he plays. So happy for him. He’s worked extremely hard to get back in. It’s big for our team he’s with us now."
Dach, who suffered the wrist injury in Team Canada's lone exhibition game at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship and underwent surgery on Dec. 28, was originally put on a four-to-five-month timetable. His season appeared to be in jeopardy at the time, but he never lost confidence that he'd be able to return at some point.
"I never had any doubts in my mind that I was going to play," Dach said. "I knew what was going to happen and the work I had to put in to get back here. I just put my head down and went to work that way. Feels good to be back but at the same time, feeling’s a little bit moot right now because we lost the game."
With Saturday's loss, the Blackhawks have dropped seven of their last 10 games in regulation and are trying to stave off three teams for the final playoff spot. The NHL trade deadline is April 12, but the Blackhawks essentially got a free acquisition in Dach, who returned way ahead of schedule and is back just in time to help his team for the stretch run.
"We’re right in the mix of things and we want to be in that playoff spot," Dach said. "It’s going to be a fight till the end. We've got to find a way to bring it each and every night and that’s that."