When they call his name at the NHL Draft in Vancouver on Friday, Kirby Dach might be tempted to whisper ‘finally.”
And not because he might have to wait four or five picks before somebody takes him in the first round, but because he’s been waiting 10 or 11 years.
Just as Henry Hill described his childhood ambition in the opening line of Goodfellas — “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster” — Dach recalls being just as zoned in on his own dream when he was a kid.
“I’ve always wanted to be a hockey player,” said the Fort Saskatchewan winger, who’s ranked third among North American Skaters by National Hockey League Central Scouting and sits anywhere from fourth to sixth overall on most lists.
“It’s every Canadian kid’s dream to play in the NHL, but I’ve been pretty serious about the game since I was seven or eight years old, maybe younger.
“I was always really set on being a hockey player, and I wouldn’t let anyone get in the way of letting my dreams become reality.”
The first step in that reality is days away, and as much as Dach tries to play it cool and not get too caught up in the moment, he’s an 18-year-old kid who’s about to be DRAFTED INTO THE NHL!!! Soaking it all in and celebrating the occasion is what this weekend is all about, so that’s what he plans to do.
“It’s important to take a step back and realize that it’s a dream come true to be able to drafted into the NHL and to be touted as a top 10 pick,” said the Saskatoon Blades centre, who put up 25 goals and 48 assists in 68 Western Hockey League games this year. “I’m just going to go there and enjoy the experience with my family and friends.”
Dach, more than anyone, understands that even though he’s still in his teens it’s already been a long road to get to this point. Draft weekend will give him a brief opportunity to take a deep breath and reflect before he has to shift his attention back to training.
“I look back on my junior career and how I got here, the things I’ve learned and the people I’ve met through the hockey world and the Hockey Canada experiences,” he said. “I’ve met a lot of great people along the way and they’ve helped me out so much to get to this point. I wouldn’t be the same person or player without all their help.”
His life will never be the same once he leaves the stage in Vancouver as a top prospect for an NHL team. He’s at a major crossroads in his life, with no idea, or say, in where he’s going to go. It could be to Colorado or to Detroit. Maybe Buffalo or Los Angeles. Maybe even Edmonton, if he’s still around at No. 8.
“It’s a little weird. Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko pretty much know what their future is, but I’m kind of unsure where I’m going,” Dach said. “From that aspect, it’s a little nerve-wracking, you’re sitting on pins and needles, but I’m not going to think about that stuff too much. I’m just going to go there and have fun, put a smile on my face.
“If you’re a team’s first pick that high, you have to realize that they want you for a reason and that city is going to be a place you call home for the next few years. I don’t get too nervous. I’m just more excited and ready for the adventures ahead.”
For me, it’s just about playing the game and being able to live my dream out.
Starting his career with the team he grew up watching, the Oilers, would be a thrill. But then again, so would beginning his NHL adventure in a new and exciting city somewhere else.
“For me, it’s just about playing the game and being able to live my dream out,” he said. “(The Oilers) have crossed my mind once or twice throughout the year, just how cool it would be to play at home, but it doesn’t matter. I just want to go out and play the game and be the best player I can be.”
It remains to be seen whether that player starts in the NHL next season or goes back to dominate in the WHL. A lot of it will depend on Dach, the rest will be circumstantial, but he’s ready for whatever the future holds.
“I’m confident in my abilities and knowing what I can do day in and day out. It’s a dream of mine to play in the NHL right away. I know I have a lot of work ahead of me. I have to put in a good summer in the gym, make sure I get bigger and stronger.
“I’m going to try and push to make a team in the fall. If I don’t, and I’m back in Saskatoon, I’m going to drive and push that team to the limit to try and win a championship there.”
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Hockey Hall of Fame writer Jim Matheson talks to host Craig Ellingson about the potential of a Milan Lucic-for-Loui Eriksson deal between the Edmonton Oilers and the Vancouver Canucks, about where forward Jesse Puljujarvi stands with the Oilers as the NHL Draft — a.k.a. NHL GMs trading convention — approaches, and about who/what the Oilers might target with the eighth overall pick in the June 21-22 draft.
Does size matter in today’s NHL?
One of the check marks on Kirby Dach’s scouting report is that at 6-foot-4 and just under 200 pounds, he has NHL size.
Then again, in this day and age, nobody is really sure what NHL size is anymore.
“If you look at the league now, how many teams are starting to load up with the smaller skilled guys who can weave in and out of traffic,” he said. “If you asked the question five or 10 years ago about my size it’s kind of a no brainer with how big I am, but the game’s changed a little bit since then.
“Size is obviously an advantage in the corners and battling and I try to use it but … the game is so much faster now that separation speed is much more valued than it was a couple of years ago.”