This is an exciting camp for a lot of the Blackhawks’ top prospects. Some will show they have what it takes to play in the NHL. Others will show the coaches and front office they deserve an entry-level contract at some point in the near future. Some are matriculating their way towards the NHL on a development plan.
Since July 7 of last summer, the development plan for Colton Dach has been in question for some fans. That was the day his older brother, former No. 3 overall pick Kirby, was traded to Montreal. When Colton, a second-round pick in 2021 in his own right, arrived for prospect camp in the summer and again for the prospect showcase games in the fall, it was awkward. There’s no denying that.
But Colton answered the questions and played his tail off. He’s his own player and remains part of the Blackhawks organization.
Unfortunately, last year was a mess with injuries limiting every facet of Dach’s development. He suffered a concussion after scoring on the first shift of the prospect showcase against Minnesota and was off the ice until mid-way through training camp. He went to Kelowna and was named their captain, only to deal with another concussion. And then he suffered the shoulder injury while skating for Canada at the World Juniors.
Even with all of those injuries, Dach presents a unique package to the Blackhawks. As we talked about a lot with his brother, 6-4, 200 pound centers don’t grow on trees. And even though the Blackhawks moved on from Kirby, they still have a plan for Colton.
What Luke Richardson said about Colton’s game at this stage of his career feels familiar. Indeed, it sounds a lot like what he and the front office said about Lukas Reichel a year ago when he was getting ready for his age-20 season in Rockford.
“I thought he was excellent in the rookie tournament, the two games,” Richardson said Friday afternoon. “He’s brought that confidence right into here. He looks very confident. He’s not afraid to ask questions to the coaching staff, which is great. It’s a great for a young player to do that. I know his brother has played here and also in the NHL. I’m sure he’s given him some good advice to be ready for this and take one more step.”
That’s the good stuff. The pumping of the tires, if you will. He’s a good player who asks a lot of questions and has a lot of skill. But what are the areas where Colton needs to work to make the next step up in his journey to the NHL?
“I think he has to learn to play physical, play big, but also use his skills for some offensive plays and defensive plays,” Richardson added. “He’s got to be a 200-foot player. Especially a young playing in this league, you really got to be thinking about that. You can’t think about ‘I didn’t get any points.’ I think your play will dictate that you can get more opportunity. That’s 200 feet. If a coach can trust a player like that, young guy coming in, he’ll get more opportunity to put the puck in the net. He can really shoot the puck, so we’d probably like to see him shoot that puck a little more.”
With Dach working mostly at center thus far in training camp, there’s a huge opportunity for him to show that he can be a power forward for the organization. We’ve talked plenty about the lack if height with the Blackhawks’ center depth as an organization, so Dach being able to stick at the dot with his size would be a huge bonus.
But, as was the case with Reichel, the organization is going to ask him to be a more complete hockey player. The skill is there, and the early signs are that Colton heard what the coaches and front office have said about him needing to be more physical and he’s responded to that with good play in Minnesota in the prospect showcase games.