Produced by the Western Hockey League in partnership with BC Tree Fruits, “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” is a multi-part series highlighting the next generation of WHL stars set to embark on a journey pursuing NHL dreams. “Growing the Game’s Best Talent” can be seen monthly at WHL.ca, featuring a key member of the upcoming 2019 NHL Draft Class. Together, the WHL and BC Tree Fruits are “Growing the Game’s Best Talent.”
Kirby Dach remains as focused as ever on the goal ahead. Whether it’s winning a game in the short term, representing his country on the international stage, or raising his stock ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft, Dach has taken a calculated approach to being his absolute best in whatever it is he’s doing.
Even before winning the scoring title in the Alberta Major Bantam AAA Hockey League in 2015 with his hometown Fort Saskatchewan Rangers, Dach was identified as a top-tier talent available for the WHL Bantam Draft and has made good on the expectations laid out by others. Dach has kept up that momentum, becoming a can’t-miss prospect for NHL teams come late June, ready to realize his dreams of playing professional hockey.
As much as different teammates have come and gone throughout various leagues in his career to date, it’s his original team, his family, that has allowed him to remain a level-headed hockey player even as attention toward the 18-year-old grows exponentially.
“I look back to my minor hockey days and my parents have always been there and guided me along the right path,” said Dach while captaining Team Orr at the 2019 Sherwin-Williams CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game. “It’s a whirlwind year. You’re graduating from high school in the same year so between school and hockey and the media attention, there’s a lot of things going on and you have to find time for yourself there too.”
Since being selected second overall by the Blades in the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft, Dach has steadily improved in each arena he’s been a part of. In the WHL ‘arena’, he’s posted 129 points (38G-91A) in 133 regular season games, second among WHL players selected in that year’s draft. Before his WHL career even began, Dach helped lead his province to a gold medal in the arena of the 2016 WHL Cup.
He’s also suited up in the red and white plenty, playing on Canada Black at the 2017 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge and winning gold last summer at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup. Dach also donned a similar colour scheme to represent the WHL at the 2018 CIBC Canada Russia Series last November in British Columbia.
The importance of family, biologically and with his hockey team, is something Blades head coach Mitch Love has seen the importance of as well in fostering positive development for Dach’s hockey career.
“I know he’s real close with his mom and dad and his siblings, we’re all here to support each other,” said Love. “That’s what this business is all about. When your team has success, it often comes with impressive performances individually and he’s been right there for us all year.”
After recording a modest 46 points (7G-39A) in his rookie season, Dach’s offensive totals surged to 73 points (25G-48A) in the 2018-19 WHL Regular Season. As part of WHL Opening Week, Dach impressed early on with a five-point performance on Saturday, September 22 in his team’s home-opening contest. Later helping the Blades make their triumphant return to the WHL Playoffs, he’d record points in seven of their 10 post-season games, finishing third in team scoring.
Like most of the highly-touted draft-eligible talents available, Dach has embraced the challenge of playing against those with advantages in age and size.
“Battling with them pushes me to get to the next level and realize that I need to have that strength and that tenacity to play at the next level and help me get there,” said Dach. “I was able to grow at such a young age and understand what the game is about. To be able to play against older players helped me develop my game to play at that elite level.”
Ranked third among North American skaters in NHL Central Scouting’s final rankings released earlier this month, it’s almost a rarity to find a mock draft that has the 6-foot-4, 197-pound forward selected past the fifth slot.
With the ups also come the downs in Dach’s young career, teachable moments as he matures in the hockey world. One of those moments took place from November 21 – December 28, 2018. After recording four points in a 5-3 win against the Tri-City Americans as home on November 17, Dach collected just three points in the next 14 contests during the team’s biennial trip through the B.C. Division and nearly the rest of December.
Love embraced the adversity for the young forward to help him understand that he doesn’t always have to be the player filling the back of the net and that he can be just as valuable away from the puck.
“He provided so many other things for our hockey club besides his offence that I think really proved to people in terms of his overall game,” said Love. “His face-off percentage in the second half was better, his defensive play, his all-around game is so much better.”
True to his ability, things turned around for Dach and at the end of 2018 leading into 2019 he scored goals in four of five games while recording eight points in that span. It all led to the Blades clinching their first berth in the WHL Playoffs in five years. In the WHL’s second season, Dach led his team to a first-round sweep of the Moose Jaw Warriors and played through a hard-fought series against the Prince Albert Raiders.
Through it all, Dach, who idolizes and attempts to replicate the game played by another WHL star in Ryan Getzlaf, remains in the present. It’s also kept him high on scouting charts for teams with high selections this June at Rogers Arena in Vancouver, B.C. Having already come so far, Dach remains as motivated as ever.
“There’s good players behind me and in front of me so I’ve got to focus on staying where I am and not dropping too far.”