Dach made his season debut after a long recovery, centering the third line, but the Hawks otherwise struggled in a 3-1 loss.
The NHL trade deadline remains more than two weeks away, but the Blackhawks on Saturday debuted their biggest mid-season addition: Kirby Dach.
Dach returned to the lineup more than a month ahead of his initial timeline in the Hawks’ 3-1 loss to the Predators.
Eased back into action as the third-line center between Mattias Janmark and Dylan Strome, Dach played 19 minutes, 58 seconds with no points but four shot attempts. He also took Brandon Hagel’s spot on the first power-play unit.
The 20-year-old center said on the NBC Sports Chicago intermission show the Hawks had decided Thursday that Saturday would be his return date — although that wasn’t publicly disclosed and he wasn’t officially activated from long-term injured reserve until warmups. He missed the first 34 games of the season recovering from late December surgery on his right wrist after a freak injury at the World Junior Championships.
The Hawks’ poor effort took much of the buzz out of Dach’s big night, however.
The surging Predators — now 6-1 in their last seven games entering Sunday’s rematch — were on the front foot from the opening faceoff, overpowering the Hawks with a physical, hard, direct style that forced lots of turnovers and immediately sent those turned-over pucks toward Kevin Lankinen’s net.
Five minutes in, Ryan Johansen gave Nashville the lead, and they never relinquished it.
The Predators out-shot the Hawks 30-17 through the first two periods. A third-period push by the hosts made the final shots on goal totals respectable (34-30) but didn’t generate enough high-quality chances to beat Predators goalie Juuse Saros.
Lankinen made 31 saves and had little chance on any of the three goals he conceded.
Dach’s return, meanwhile, will obviously have a huge impact on his own development: the 2019 third overall pick is arguably the centerpiece of the Hawks’ future core and has all the tools to be a first-line center for years.
It didn’t take him long — four minutes, exactly — to showcase some of those skills Saturday when he raced powerfully down the ice, deked out Predators defenseman Ben Hutton and nearly scored a highlight-reel goal.
His return will also have a huge impact on the Hawks’ immediate team composition.
David Kampf has been deployed lately as the second-line center, but he’s drastically over-slotted there — he has zero goals this season and committed an inexcusable turnover on the Preds’ second goal.
The fact Kampf has remained there is solely due to the Hawks’ lack of top-six centers. Dach should soon take over that spot, if not the first-line center role currently held by Pius Suter (who did score for a third consecutive game Saturday).
Mitchell, others sent to AHL
With the Rockford IceHogs also playing back-to-back games this weekend, the Hawks used the opportunity to get playing time for the players who otherwise would’ve been scratched, sending them down Saturday.
Ian Mitchell was the surprise inclusion of the group. Mitchell was scratched twice earlier this month but had been paired with Duncan Keith since his return. He did struggle in the Panthers series, with a 29.2% on-ice scoring chance ratio in those two games.
Nicolas Beaudin drew into the lineup in Mitchell’s stead. Defenseman Wyatt Kalynuk and Lucas Carlsson and forwards Reese Johnson and MacKenzie Entwistle were also all sent down.