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Every Wednesday throughout the offseason, the CHGO Blackhawks crew will give their evaluations of the 2021-22 Blackhawks. We’ll be using our “feather system.” Four feathers = an A, three feathers = a B, and so on.
This week, we’re reviewing the seasons of forward Kirby Dach and defenseman Erik Gustafsson.
Kirby Dach Analysis
Jay Zawaski: As I said Wednesday on Twitter and on the show, there may not be a more important player to the Blackhawks rebuild than Kirby Dach. Lucking into the 3rd overall pick in 2019 was an unexpected surprise, and while (so far) no one aside from Jack Hughes (1st overall), Mo Seider (6th overall) and Trevor Zegras (9th overall) have grown into bona fide stars, I expected to have seen more from Dach by now.
When I watch Dach play offensively, I see a player who is fighting the game mentally. He’s hesitant to take control. He opts to pass far too often. He is unsure of himself and of his game. This season, he deleted social media (never a bad move) to prevent from reading negative comments about his game and block out the “noise.”
“I just felt like it was something I wanted to try and I started having good games after,” Dach said. “After that initial week of deleting it you kind of stop going on your phone as much. I got the screen time down, which was good.”
In 2022-23, I want to see Dach play with some swagger. A good way to start would be to put him on a line without Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane or Alex Debrincat. I’d like to see him on a line with Lukas Reichel and Philip Kurashev. This will give him ownership of his line and allow him to take it upon himself to lead, instead of deferring to more veteran teammates. Once that becomes his mentality, try him on some other lines.
To Dach’s credit, the other elements of his game (aside from faceoffs) have improved. He’s gotten better defensively and seemed to find his game in the neutral and his own zones towards the back end of his season. Now, if the offensive output can grow at the same rate, we could be talking about a really solid player. If Dach can get to the 50-60 point range in the next season or two, it does a lot to help the Blackhawks rebuild.
Mario Tirabassi: I had high hopes for Dach coming into this season. He had his development thrown off track a number of times already in his young career and it felt like this season could have been a perfect time to get back on the right path. That wasn’t entirely the cast. Through three season in the NHL, Dach is still looking to have a real breakthrough as a professional and a former third overall pick. His overall game can continue developing in the trajectory he finished the year with, but his offensive production needs to get jump started soon. Maybe a more permanent switch to wing from center is what he needs to help his confidence and get the snowball going to help him reach his true potential.
Greg Boysen: We’ve discussed how the Blackhawks stunted Dach’s development and flat out failed him. With a new general manager and a possible new coach coming, it is time to hit the restart button on the former third-overall pick. He is young enough to start from scratch and give him a fresh start. He needs to regain his confidence, stop thinking so much on the ice, and rely more on the instincts that got him to the NHL. Outside of his abysmal performance at the faceoff dot, Dach’s most glaring stat is 116 shots in 70 games. That is 1.6 shots per game. A player who is supposed to be a dynamic offensive player needs to shoot more. Start fresh this fall with Dach on a wing and go from there.
Erik Gustafsson Evaluation
Jay: It’s important to remind everyone that we used these grades based on expectation. My expectations for Gustafsson were pretty low to begin with, and he was basically what I expected him to be. One has to wonder…had Caleb Jones and Wyatt Kalynuk not gotten injured early in the season if this signing would have even happened. He Who Shall Not Be Named saw an opportunity to fill a need with a familiar face and didn’t hesitate. I would have preferred to just play another kid, but remember, the Hawks had designs of competing for a playoff spot when this season began. That didn’t happen. Once that didn’t happen, Gustafsson should have been traded or sent to Rockford. Instead, he took ice time from young players.
He is what he is…a one-dimensional 7 or 8 defenseman on a good team. The Hawks were and are not a good team, and having him on the roster was a waste of a roster spot.
Nothing personal against Gus, of course. He’s a pro. He plays to the best of his abilities. It just wasn’t a fit.
Mario: We all knew exactly what we were getting when Gustafsson was brought back to the Blackhawks. He was going to be an asset on offense and a turnstile on defense. The problem was, after sticking with the team all season and not just for two months like he should have, he was rarely an asset on offense while still being a turnstile on defense. He was a veteran presence on the blueline, but once Jones and Kalynuk were healthy, he should have been shipped out to create another opportunity for a younger defenseman. He won’t be back in Chicago, and if he’s back in the NHL next season, good luck to that team.
Greg: Gustafsson started the season on a tryout with the New York Islanders. When Barry Trotz, one of the greatest defensive-minded coaches of modern hockey, takes a pass, you should too. There was no need to keep slotting him in the lineup when the production was never there. You could live with Gustafsson’s lack of defense when he scored 60 points and quarterbacked a power play. However, he had just four power-play points this past season as the Blackhawks were the first team in over 50 years to not have a power-play goal from a defenseman. What was the point?
Stay tuned to the CHGO Blackhawks Podcast for more player evaluations as the offseason grinds on.
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