Chicago Blackhawks’ Alex DeBrincat Leads Continued Youth Movement

Feb 19, 2017; Buffalo, NY, USA; Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville watches play from behind the bench during the first period against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 19, 2017; Buffalo, NY, USA; Chicago Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville watches play from behind the bench during the first period against the Buffalo Sabres at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports /

The Chicago Blackhawks are no longer holding an air of invincibility, which means they need to look more to their future youth

If you watched the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators’ opening-round series in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, a few things were evident: 1) the Blackhawks have gotten older, slower and are in need of fresh legs more than ever before; 2) and Nashville played faster in all four games against Chicago, and the Blackhawks had no answer.

When you think of all the high level hockey that the Blackhawks’ franchise core players have played since 2009, it’s no surprise that guys like Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and the lot couldn’t reach the level of intensity they needed to hang with the Predators. Hossa, Seabrook and Keith are all north of 30 years old, and with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane nearing that 30-year age, the franchise is in need of quality players to start to pick up the slack left by aging top players.

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Not saying that those players cannot still produce at a high level — it’s clear they can with the kind of regular seasons that they put together — but how much longer can they be relied on to put the Blackhawks over the top when it matters?

Last summer, the Blackhawks organization made a conscious effort to invest in new, young talent and allow it to grow at the NHL level. In the past, these prospects were given short leashes and regularly were held to higher standards that they could not reach as rookies.

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Joel Quenneville’s patience with the youth paid off and it should be in the plan for the Blackhawks to continue that trend and usher in the newer blood.

Youth movement 1.0 was a success

As stated before, last season’s youth movement made a large impact on the success of the Blackhawks in the regular season. Rookies like Nick Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Vince Hinostroza made large strides in their first full NHL seasons.

On top of that, Tyler Motte, Gustav Forsling, Tanner Kero and John Hayden all showed a ton of potential in their time with the Blackhawks, no matter how long or short.

All seven players figure to be in the mix come training camp, and it goes without saying  the Blackhawks’ future with these players is bright. If the organization had not made the effort to grow its prospects at the NHL level, the season could have turned out to be much different and the future of the team could be in much more turmoil than it is at the moment.

DeBrincat leads Blackhawks youth movement 2.0

Where the Blackhawks are at the moment, though, is still in a transition period. The Stanley Cup window is still open for this group of Blackhawks, and the core of players they rely heavily on still make up one better groups in the NHL today.

But, to keep that window open, the Blackhawks need to keep the development of young talent going. Chicago doesn’t need to rebuild the franchise core, but re-tool for the future — and there are plenty of tools in the shed to keep the team at the top of the NHL.

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Looking to prospects the Blackhawks have already signed to entry-level contracts heading into next season, there is plenty of potential to work with and at least one player who could make the full-time jump to the NHL next season: Alex DeBrincat.

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DeBrincat is one of those prospects teams kick themselves for not seeing when they were right in front of them. A second-round pick in last summer’s NHL draft, DeBrincat has set records with the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League over his three-year junior league career.

If he were not “undersized” at 5-foot-7, he may have been a lottery pick and one of the more sought after talents coming into next season.

Fortunately for the Blackhawks, DeBrincat fell into their laps, and now is the time to take advantage of the talent he possesses as a fast-paced, goal scoring winger — something they have a need for beyond Kane and Artemi Panarin.

There is a more than likely chance that if DeBrincat continues to progress in prospect camp and training camp with the Blackhawks this summer, he could find his way to the opening night lineup.

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Along with DeBrincat, the Blackhawks have high-potential prospects in Alexandre Fortin, Matthew Highmore, Luc Snuggerud and Graham Knott under contract, and all have the kind of playing-styles that could inject the Blackhawks organization with the kind of life it needs to surround its core players with to continue to keep its window open and bring another Stanley Cup to Chicago.