Five games into Kirby Dach’s return to the Blackhawks’ lineup, lingering pain in his surgically repaired right wrist continues to be an issue.
“Obviously, there’s pain with it still,” Dach admitted Monday. “It’s a four-to-five-month injury and I’ve been playing within three months. There’s going to be a little bit of pain with it.”
That comment turned some heads and raised some questions. Is playing now a risk to Dach’s long-term health? Was he medically cleared too soon?
But coach Jeremy Colliton clarified that Dach’s lingering pain was of no significant concern.
“There’s no way the medical staff and organization would have [approved it if it was risky],” Colliton said. “He’s too important for us. I wouldn’t be in favor of playing him if that were a concern. Everything that I’ve been told is that this doesn’t slow down his process of feeling 100% at all. In fact, it should speed it up.”
Dach’s first five games have been decent yet unremarkable, perhaps not fully justifying the hype stirred up by his surprise return March 27.
He tallied one assist in each of the two Hurricanes games before being bumped up to the first-line center role against the Predators. He hasn’t been a huge difference-maker in any game yet, though, and the Hawks have gone 1-4 during this stretch.
Defensively, he’s scraping off the rust with his positioning, stick usage and physicality. Offensively, he’s frustrated that his progress has been even slower.
“It’s just confidence-[related] things like, in the offensive zone, hanging onto the puck and making plays and trusting my shot more,” he said. “I’ve got a long way to go in getting that back and being comfortable with shooting in certain areas.”
Dach has indeed tended to pass too often and shoot too little in his NHL career to date. It was a big emphasis last season, when his shot share — the percentage of all Hawks shot attempts he was on the ice for that he shot himself — was only 20.7%. (Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, comparatively, both had shot shares above 28%.)
Dach has hovered around the same shot share (20.1%) so far this year, yet his current reluctance to shoot is not only a mental dilemma but also a physical problem.
“I don’t know if it’s necessarily confidence in myself [that’s lacking],” he said. “It’s confidence in my wrist and how it’s holding up — the strength of that and how much power I have behind it.”
The Hawks are willing to take a patient, long-term approach with their cornerstone 20-year-old forward.
Colliton talked with Dach throughout the recovery process to remind him it would take weeks or months to rediscover his ‘A’-game. So nine days since Dach returned, Hawks leadership has no worries about his lack of immediately amazing results.
“It’s just going to take time,” Colliton said. “It’s [about] reps and taking those shots when someone’s putting their stick in there or finishing a check on you. It was important that he started playing [to] some games in and have that competition and contact… He’s moving in the right direction and he’ll get there.”
Instead, Dach is the one holding himself to the loftiest standard.
“The doctors have done a really good job of managing [my wrist] and taking care of it after games,” Dach said. “I don’t really see it as an excuse where it’s like, ‘My wrist is hurting.’ If I’m out playing on it, I expect to be 100% out there and make the plays and be the player I am.”
Note: The Hawks placed forward Lucas Wallmark on waivers Monday. Wallmark hasn’t appeared since March 18 and the Hawks needed to open a roster spot for trade acquisition Vinnie Hinostroza, who joined the team at practice Monday. Colliton said Wallmark will be assigned to the taxi squad Tuesday if he clears waivers.