Player outlook: Alright, how many people doubted Alex DeBrincat’s ability to play in the National Hockey League? This season should have proved most of his doubters wrong. DeBrincat’s rookie year was absolutely phenomenal. Despite putting up ridiculous numbers in the OHL, the Blackhawks rookie still had people doubting his ability to play in the NHL. Yes, he’s small, as in only 5’7, he doesn’t skate the fastest, but man can he SHOOT. Since surprising fans and other analysts in making the team straight out of training camp, DeBrincat blew away expectations.
He was only 20-years old during the season and yet he was tied for second on the team with 52 points. However, he LED the Blackhawks with 28 goals, surpassing even Patrick Kane. There is no doubt that the Blackhawks struck gold with this find in the second round of the 2016 draft. Yes, DeBrincat made some rookie mistakes, and he did primarily match up with third-line defensive pairings, which gave him better matchups. However, this season proved that he might be playing on a line with Kane and Nick Schmaltz.
He’s not going to replicate the insane slap shot that Chicago saw in two years with Artemi Panarin, but the team next year could show flashes of that disgustingly talented second line with the “Bread man” and Kane and Artem Anisimov. He’s only 20-years old, so the ceiling is still high for DeBrincat.
Why there is hope: DeBrincat wasn’t going to win the Calder Trophy, which is the award given to the best rookie in the NHL. That doesn’t matter though, as the Blackhawks top pick in the 2016 draft has surpassed all expectations and was a constant bright spot in an otherwise dreary season. What he also did was provide scoring depth, often playing on a third line.
That has been something that Chicago hasn’t seen for the past couple of years, primarily relying on the likes of Kane and Panarin to do all the damage. Keep in mind, DeBrincat is 20, so he’s going to learn and develop more. He’s not a “face of the franchise” like Kane or Jonathan Toews, but like Schmaltz, he’s a key piece to build around. There’s a realistic chance that DeBrincat could hit 30 or more goals next season, but that depends more on his consistency.
Causes for Concern: Yes, DeBrincat had an amazing year. However, there were some discouraging signs through it. Firstly, the kid is incredibly streaky. This season alone, he had goal droughts of seven, eight, nine and 13 games. On the flip side of that, he recorded three hat tricks in three separate games. Based on that, DeBrincat could have a drought of 10 games and then immediately bust out of it with a hat trick. That’s not exactly encouraging for a team that wants some balanced scoring.
Secondly, this was his rookie season and he primarily dealt with third-line pairings, giving an easier match up. Next year he might be going up against shut down defenders, and that could put a damper on his scoring. Coach Quenneville should do what he can to ease DeBrincat into better defensive pairings so he’s not overmatched.
Final Thoughts: There really wasn’t much more that DeBrincat could do in his first season. He led the team in goals, was tied for second in points and proved most of his doubters wrong. The kid is here to stay. However, it’s time to build on that great season.
If DeBrincat can fix his streakiness, then the Blackhawks will have a balanced scoring attack and won’t have to rely on one line to provide all the scoring. It’s going to be interesting to see where Coach Quenneville places DeBrincat next season, because he could be a third-line winger or play alongside Kane and Schmaltz. Wherever the kid is placed, the goals are going to come.