The biggest storyline of the season for the Chicago Blackhawks was the emergence of their 2021 rookie class. Having iced a dozen rookies this season with many of them becoming regulars in the lineup towards the back-half of the year, the expectations and level of success for the team started low at the beginning of the year, got a little high at the mid-point of the season, and eventually came back down to earth by the trade deadline. It was a weird season, but the emergence of the young players with most of them showcasing their ability to hang at the NHL level was the highlight of the year.
Two players who made the transition for some of the rookies easier in their time this season were Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach. While Dach didn’t join the team until March after breaking his wrist at the World Junior Championships prior to training camp, he was able to jump into the lineup, play through pain, and gave Chicago a chance to make a run to the postseason. Ultimately falling short of that goal prior to the final week of the season, Dach shut things down because of discomfort in his surgically repaired wrist after 18 games, tallying two goals and ten points in the process.
Dach’s focus is now on recovery and preparing for next Fall’s training camp, which will be his first full training camp with the Blackhawks since he joined the team as the third-overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. He already has his sights set on postseason play for next year.
Kirby Dach on where he'd like his game to be a year from now:
"A year from now, I'd like to be in the playoffs."
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) May 11, 2021
Dach was part of last summer’s Bubble Playoff team in Chicago as they won their play-in round against the Edmonton Oilers before falling in five games to the Vegas Golden Knights. Dach had six points in nine postseason games last summer and was ready to use the World Junior Championships, where he was named Captain for Team Canada, as another launching point for his 2021 season.
That didn’t happen, as you know, and now Dach’s focus is on becoming that key contributor to the Blackhawks that he and the organization expect him to be.
Kirby Dach: "I’d like to be in the playoffs. Anything I can do to help the team win. Individual accolades come with team success. I’m going to put in a good summer, be ready to come back and be one of those offensive guys. Also want to work on my defensive game." #Blackhawks
— Brandon Cain (@brandonmcain) May 11, 2021
As for DeBrincat, completing his fourth NHL season with the Blackhawks has a familiar feeling with no postseason play in the cards. Three years out of his four in Chicago have not seen DeBrincat get Stanley Cup Playoff experience, and if we are being honest, the expanded Bubble Playoffs last year kinda do/kinda don’t count since the team had no business being in the postseason had COVID not become a thing (what a world that would be right?).
After having a monster bounce-back season in 2021, tallying 32 goals and 56 points in 52 games, DeBrincat is still unsatisfied with how his and the team’s season is ending.
Alex DeBrincat on missing playoffs 3 of his 4 seasons: "I mean it's tough, but it's something you've got to go through. You're not going to make the playoffs every year of your career probably. Hopefully we can start next year – make it again and hopefully go for a run."
— John Dietz (@johndietzdh) May 11, 2021
Had DeBrincat been able to produce this kind of bounce-back performance over a normal 82-game season, he would have been on pace to score 50 goals and 88 points, both of which would have been career-highs for the 23-year-old winger.
While that’s all well and good for him, his goal and the goal of every player in the NHL every season is to compete for the Stanley Cup. One team that hindered those chances for Chicago this season was the Nashville Predators, who finished fourth in the Central Division and will be playing in the postseason. The Blackhawks lost seven of their eight matchups with Nashville this season, finishing the year with a 1-5-2 record and being outscored 26-14 in their eight meetings, the fewest goals scored against any opponent for the Blackhawks this season.
The series against the Predators seems like the Blackhawks' biggest regret this season. DeBrincat, unprompted:
"When…a team you’re battling with beats you 7 times out of 8, it’s never a good thing. It’s going to be different, hopefully, next year."
— Ben Pope (@BenPopeCST) May 11, 2021
“It’s going to be different, hopefully, next year.” That should be the the subject line for the email to re-up season tickets.
DeBrincat is optimistic for the future of the Blackhawks and has good reason to be. With players up front like Brandon Hagel, Pius Suter, and Philipp Kurashev making impacts this season, the forwards group is looking like it has a young, solid base to build upon. Adding players like Henrik Borgström and Lukas Reichel this offseason or next will continue to build upon that base layer. They’ll need players to come in and make impacts too, that’s a given since you can’t put all your hopes on aging players like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, even if they can still play and contribute at high levels. Having salary cap flexibility this offseason for the first time in a long time makes that ability to bring in an impact player via trade or free agency a possibility.
There’s warranted optimism in the successes that the Blackhawks experienced this season. There’s also great validity to the areas of the game where they were bad this season and need improvement, but the team is heading in the right direction. Thinking they can contend for the postseason in 2021-22, *IF* things continue offensively in this current direction, isn’t the biggest of stretches.