Blackhawks’ Kirby Dach has ‘improved a lot’ with managing frustration, staying positive

Back on Feb. 20, Blackhawks interim coach Derek King included a curious preface –“If he decides to continue to be a better person” –when discussing Kirby Dach’s still-lofty potential.

The negative implications of that comment might’ve been purely unintentional.King did immediately say “better player,” too, and he might not have intended for those phrases to be interpreted separately. But the comment might’ve alternatively indicated that, behind the scenes, King had taken issue with some of Dach’s behavior.

After practice Tuesday, King provided some possible clarity. Asked if he’s seen any evolution in Dach’s attitude or personality this season, he said the former third overall pick has lately done a “much better job of not slamming doors, breaking sticks and looking so frustrated.”

King’s distaste for such dramatic, visible displays of emotion has been firmly established. He joked after the Hawks’ loss in Vegas on March 26 that “close to $2,000 worth of hockey sticks [were busted] out there today.” He likes when his upbeat, glass-half-full attitude rubs off on his team, so it’s hardly surprising Dach’s often gloomy aura this winter could’ve rubbed him the wrong way.

But it sounds like King has seen improvement –not only from Dach but also from many of the Hawks’ less-mature players –in terms of patience and calmness in the face of adversity or misfortune.

“It’s an emotional game, and I get it,” he said. “I just don’t like to see it all the time. Sometimes a guy is going to get upset [and] break his stick on the bench or slam a door. But you can’t do it after every mistake you think you made, or [after] a bad shift, or [if] you missed a goal or you did something.

“I haven’t seen it [as much]. It has been a lot better. The one guy who has improved a lot is Dach.”

It’s probably not a coincidence Dach has been off social media for more than three months now, having deleted his apps around New Year’s Day to help block out the criticism and pressure from fans.

Indeed, Dach said himself Tuesday his effort to be more present has made a difference.

“I’ve always been pretty confident in my play and things I can do on the ice,” he said. “It’s just nice to take a break. You get away from things. You don’t really hear about things anymore, not even critics or social media that way. It’s nice to shut the phone off and just enjoy life a little bit more.”

Dach’s on-ice performance since Feb. 20 has been an exaggerated microcosm of his overall career to date: poor offensive results, good defensive results.

He touts just four points in 18 games during this span, meaning his tepid season stats (24 points in 66 games) now nearly match his rookie totals (23 points in 64 games). But he also has conceded only 26.0 opponent scoring chances per 60 even-strength minutes, the best among all Hawks forwards still on the roster.

He understandably wants to excel in both regards eventually, and his lack of progress so far toward that goal is concerning. But rushing or getting restless about the process’s pace won’t help, and Dach seems to be learning that.

“He wants to be the best player on the ice all the time, and it’s frustrating why he’s not,” King said. “I keep telling him it’s something you’ve got to build. It will come. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”

Note: Marian Hossa will sign a one-day contract Thursday during a United Center event before the Hawks-Kraken game to retire as a Blackhawk. His last NHL appearance came with the Hawks in 2017, but he technically finished his career under contract with the Coyotes.

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