Kirby Dach knew the Chicago Blackhawks were heading into rebuild mode.
What he didn’t know was that he wasn’t part of the team’s blueprint.
The Blackhawks dealt Dach to the Montreal Canadiens for a pair of picks on Thursday. The 21-year-old centre said he learned of the news about five minutes before it was announced on the floor of the NHL entry draft.
“I was actually on my way into the rink to go skate,” Dach told reporters on a video call Friday. “So it’s a bit shocking but I’m excited to be in Montreal. It’s a great city. I love to play there. I can’t wait to have the fans on my side cheering us on.”
Selected third overall by Chicago at the 2019 draft, expectations were high for Dach as he embarked on his NHL career. He was hampered by injuries, though, including a broken wrist that limited the forward to just 18 games in the 2020-21 campaign.
Last season, Dach had nine goals and 17 assists in 70 games.
The native of Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., feels he has more to show with the Canadiens.
“I feel like I’m pretty offensive and smart with the puck and can make plays. But I’m also a reliable two-way centreman that’s big and strong down the middle of the ice, that skates well and can make plays,” he said. “And I feel like Montreal is a place where I can flourish with that.”
The last few seasons have been full of disappointment for the Blackhawks. Now, Chicago seems intent on dismantling its roster in favour of a complete rebuild.
The club also dealt star forward Alex DeBrincat on Thursday, sending him to the Ottawa Senators for three picks, including the seventh overall selection in the 2022 draft.
Management has been up front with the players about their plans, Dach said.
“We knew we were going to rebuild there and stuff like that. But they were very open and honest with us about that stuff. And obviously they felt like they needed to go a different direction than (DeBrincat) and I,” he said.
“It’s a business. There’s nothing else to it. You’ve jut got to move on and I’ve got a great opportunity in front of me in Montreal. I’m beyond excited to get things rolling and start the next chapter in my career.”
While Dach described his time in Chicago as “full of ups and downs,” he said his first three seasons in the NHL have provided a lot of lessons, too.
“I was a young guy coming into kind of an older locker room and was able to learn quite a lot about the pro lifestyle and what it really takes to play in this league and be a good player at a consistent level each and every night,” he said. “And I definitely take those qualities with me and try and improve upon myself each and every day.”