The Blackhawks were hit by some unfortunate news at the start of the vacation, and it’s also not exactly how they expected 2021 to begin.
On Wednesday morning, the team announced that striker Alex Nylander will be out for four to six months after undergoing knee surgery. Later in the evening, center-back Kirby Dach left Team Canada’s exhibition game in the third period and reportedly suffered a fracture that is likely to force him to waste NHL time.
Let’s get this out of the way: Chicago made the right decision to let Dach participate in the IIHF 2021 Junior World Championship, even if the worst scenario had happened. This was an excellent opportunity for the 19-year-old to serve in a leadership role and captain of Team Canada for a potential gold medal without interfering with his NHL schedule.
The Blackhawks did not allow Dach to play the tournament last season because they had aspirations for the playoff, and taking him out of the team for a few weeks would have sent the wrong message inside the locker room. But the 2020-21 season is clearly a development one, which made the obvious decision for the Blackhawks to give Dach a chance to do what every Canadian child dreams of doing.
The two injuries affect Blackhawks in different ways during the training period, which begins on January 3.
For Nylander, this was a crucial time for his personal development. He’s still technically a prospect – in the final year of his initial contract – but he’s been approaching five years since he was called up to eighth overall and now is the time for the 22-year-old to prove himself in the NHL.
For Dach, this would be the year that the Blackhawks gave him a huge responsibility after a postseason explosion in the Edmonton bubble, where he had an average 19:24 of ice time, second only to Patrick Kane (22: 30) among the team’s attackers. The organization was very eager to see how a mentally and physically recharged Dach would handle this season, and how big the step in its development from Year 1 to Year 2 would be.
Although it is unclear how much time he can afford to lose, the compressed schedule of 56 games in 116 days will not allow Dach the opportunity to get involved again, although this is nothing new for him after losing the entire training ground last season for cause of a concussion. This only complicates the process of evaluating the Blackhawks, who hoped to assemble the whole picture by the end of the season, starting with their performance at the Junior Worlds.
Then, in a matter of 24 hours, the Blackhawks lost a top six pivot in Dach for an unknown period and a prospect they hope can turn into a top six winger – top nine at least – in Nylander for potentially the entire season. We are all ready to turn the page in 2020.
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