For the first time since 1980, the Montreal Canadiens possessed the first overall selection in the National Hockey League Draft on Thursday night at the Bell Centre.
The hosts used that pick on Slovakian center Juraj Slafkovsky, but they were far from done. Between the third and fourth picks in the opening round, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman took to the podium and announced that he had not one but two trades to announce, both involving Montreal. The news turned the customary boos from the packed crowd into cheers.

First, Bettman announced the trade of defenseman Alexander Romanov from the Canadiens to the New York Islanders with a fourth-round pick this year, in exchange for this year’s 13th overall selection. If the first deal was met with some confusion, the second swap completed the picture being constructed on the draft floor by first-year general manager Kent Hughes. In his next breath, Bettman announced Montreal’s acquisition of centre Kirby Dach from the Chicago Blackhawks, with the 13 th pick and a third-rounder
going back to Chicago.

Within the span of approximately half an hour, Montreal had drastically changed the makeup of their top two forward lines by acquiring two physical and skilled players –with emphasis on physical- to play alongside skilful wingers Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield. For Dach, the move from Chicago to the Canadiens begins a new chapter in the still young career of the former Saskatoon Blades star playmaker.

Dach was selected third overall to the Blackhawks in the 2019 draft, following a breakout Western Hockey League campaign where he compiled 25 goals and 73 points, leading the Saskatoon Blades to a playoff berth and a first-round sweep of the Moose Jaw Warriors. At the time of his draft, Dach was seen as the hopeful face of the next era for Chicago to eventually carry the torch from franchise cornerstone forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Dach scored 19 goals with 59 points in 152 games over three seasons with the Blackhawks, but the franchise’s plans have drastically changed during that time.

Hours before parting with Dach, general manager Kyle Davidson shipped 40-goal scorer Alex Debrincat to the Ottawa Senators for the seventh and 39th selections in this year’s draft. Parting with Debrincat and Dach effectively plunges the Blackhawks firmly into a full-scale rebuild with decisions looming on their two stars. Dach will bring his 6’4’’, 195 lb frame to a Canadiens forward unit that Hughes clearly felt needed more size to open up the ice for their smaller skill players.

Adding Dach and Slafkovsky, who also stands 6’4’’, seems to remedy that need for physicality. A native of Fort Saskatchewan, AB, Dach played in parts of three WHL seasons for the Blades, netting 38 goals with 129 points in 133 games playing under head coach Mitch Love. Many were anticipating his return to Saskatoon for the 2019-20 season, which followed his draft, but he earned his way onto the Blackhawks roster in his first training camp and played in 64 games.
In Dach’s absence, the Blades transitioned their leadership up front that season to the dynamic duo of Tristen Robins and Kyle Crnkovic. The pair stepped up to lead the attack for the next three seasons, resulting in two more playoff appearances. Robins also became a second-round pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2020. Another Dach was part of the Blades forward group for two seasons (2019-21). Kirby’s younger brother Colton began his WHL career playing in 82 games and counting 22 goals with 49 points in Saskatoon. He was taken in the second round also by Chicago in the 2021 NHL Draft before being traded in the WHL from the Blades to the Kelowna Rockets, where he was the leading scorer with 29 goals and 79 points last season.