The Blackhawks were hit with some unfortunate news going into the holidays, and it's not exactly the way they hoped 2021 would start, either.
On Wednesday morning, the team announced forward Alex Nylander will be out four-to-six months after undergoing knee surgery. Later at night, center Kirby Dach left Team Canada's exhibition game in the third period and reportedly suffered a fracture that will likely force him to miss NHL time.
Let's get this out of the way: Chicago made the right decision by letting Dach participate in the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, even though the worst-case scenario happened. This was a terrific opportunity for the 19-year-old to serve in a leadership role and captain Team Canada to a potential gold medal without interfering with his NHL schedule.
The Blackhawks didn't allow Dach to play in the tournament last season because they had playoff aspirations, and taking him away from the team for a few weeks would've sent the wrong message inside the locker room. But the 2020-21 season is clearly a developmental one, which made the decision a no-brainer for the Blackhawks to give Dach a chance to do what every Canadian kid dreams of accomplishing.
The two injuries impact the Blackhawks in different ways going into training camp, which begins on Jan. 3.
For Nylander, this was a crucial season for his personal development. He's technically still a prospect — on the final year of his entry-level deal — but he's approaching five years since being drafted No. 8 overall and the time is now for the 22-year-old winger to prove himself at the NHL level.
For Dach, this was going to be the year in which the Blackhawks gave him enormous responsibility after a breakout postseason in the Edmonton bubble, where he averaged 19:24 of ice time, second only to Patrick Kane (22:30) among team forwards. The organization was very much looking forward to seeing how a mentally and physically recharged Dach would handle this season, and just how big the step in his development was going to be from Year 1 to Year 2.
While it’s unclear how much time he may miss, the compressed 56-game schedule in 116 days won’t allow Dach the opportunity to ease back into the mix, although this won't be new to him after missing all of training camp last season because of a concussion. It just complicates the evaluation process for the Blackhawks, who were hoping to put the whole picture together by the end of the season, starting with his performance at the World Juniors.
So in a matter of 24 hours, the Blackhawks lost a top-six center in Dach for an unknown period of time and a prospect they're hoping can turn into a consistent top-six winger — top-nine, at least — in Nylander for potentially the entire season. We're all ready to turn the page on 2020.
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