This is part of a series of profiles on players who might be available for the Buffalo Sabres with the seventh overall pick in the NHL Draft on June 21.
Kirby Dach had never struggled through a scoring slump quite like the one he was forced to contend with midway through last season, his third with the WHL’s Saskatoon Blades.
Dach had opened the season on a tear and was living up to his vast potential before a midseason stretch during which he managed just one goal and three points in 14 games.
“That was tough, being a producer at the junior level and not scoring for seven games or whatever it was,” Dach said at the NHL scouting combine at Harborcenter. “It sucked. You’ve kind of got to go through those stretches as a young player to learn about the consistency of the game, because the next level, if you want to be a top player in the league, you have to be consistent night-in and night-out.”
The Buffalo Sabres could target Dach, a 6-foot-4-inch, 200-pound center from Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, with the seventh overall pick in the NHL draft on June 21 in Vancouver.
Dach, who shoots right-handed, is known for using his wingspan and size to help shield the puck from defenders and control the pace of play, as well as for his elite passing, vision and puck handling.
“Ever since I was little, I just kind of saw things different than maybe other people did and it kind of translated throughout my whole life,” Dach said. “It’s just something I was kind of born with, I guess. There’s something about the game that just comes easy to me and natural. It’s almost like a chess match. I’m thinking two, three steps ahead.”
The 18-year-old said he met with the Sabres at the combine.
He is ranked as the No. 3 North American skater in the draft by NHL Central Scouting and projects as a likely second-line center in the NHL.
“He’s a really skilled forward,” said Matthew Robertson, a defenseman for the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings and Dach’s training partner and teammate on Team Canada. “He has some size. He uses that to his advantage, and he’s really good at slowing the game down and making a good pass. And he’s really smart. He has the potential to go a long way.”
Dach, the second overall pick in the 2016 WHL bantam draft, was able to overcome his midseason slump and heavily contribute down the stretch, finishing the season with 25 goals, 48 assists and 73 points in 62 games played.
He recorded 11 goals and 31 points over the final 25 games and helped Saskatoon reach the second round of the playoffs. He had eight points in 10 postseason games.
Dach finished third on the team in scoring, more than tripling his goal total from the previous season.
“I couldn’t say enough good things about him,” said Peyton Krebs, a center and forward for the WHL’s Kootenay/Winnipeg Ice and Dach’s teammate on Team Canada. “He’s a hell of a player. I think any time you can play with one of those guys, you know you’re going to have some opportunities to put the puck in the net, so it was great getting to play with him.”
Dach said he entered the WHL season on a roll after recording seven points in five games to help Canada win gold at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup.
“I kind of hit the ground running with the Hlinka Gretzky tournament in August and then was able to kind of have a head start in junior this year that way,” Dach said, “but it kind of caught up to me in mid-December. It’s not like I was playing wrong or doing the wrong things. I just wasn’t getting any puck luck or good bounces around the net, and I was still doing the right things away from the puck.”
He said he’s a better player for the experience.
“I think it kind of grows and develops your maturity as a young player in the game,” Dach said. “I know how good I can be every night and I want to be able to bring that level of consistency, and to learn that early on in my career has been really good.”