Chicago Blackhawks: Distinguishing Want Versus Need With DeBrincat

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 21: Alex DeBrincat
CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 21: Alex DeBrincat /

The Chicago Blackhawks have underperformed the past two seasons, but the pressure today to succeed shouldn’t fall on shoulders of 19-year-old Alex DeBrincat, as much as he welcomes it

I can’t listen to Chicago sports talk radio anymore, whether the topic is the Chicago Blackhawks, the Chicago Bears or something in between.

Every time I turn on ESPN 1000 or play recent recordings of my favorite podcasts, the one subject Chicago sports writers can’t seem to get away from is Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Drafted second overall in this year’s draft, the quarterback from the University of North Carolina showed a lot of promise in training camp and preseason despite only starting a limited amount of games in college.

The plan for him this season was to observe from the bench and learn the pro game behind veteran QB Mike Glennon, which seemed like a smart idea that benefited Trubisky’s long-term development. But after just two games, Bears fans are ready the throw in the towel on Glennon and see if the kid can play.

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Although many local journalists agreed when Trubisky was drafted that him sitting out the year would be beneficial, it seems their tunes have changed with those of the fans.

It’s truly a shame that Glennon, who came from a situation in Tampa Bay where Jameis Winston stunted his growth, is now dealing with the same thing with Trubisky leaving him little room for error in Chicago. The fans’ frustration with Glennon’s bad turnovers in Week 2 against the Bucs seem to have rolled over from the last handful of seasons with Jay Cutler under center making the same mistakes, which isn’t fair.

As fans, we live day by day riding the emotional roller coaster that is the NFL season. Week 1, the Bears were one play away from beating last year’s NFC champions. The next week, they looked like the 3-13 team from last year that could barely compete.

The highs and lows are brutal, but coaches and general managers are paid a lot of money to keep their focus on the team goals and how they can reach sustained success.

The Chicago Blackhawks are not the Chicago Bears

How did this connect to the Chicago Blackhawks? Well, for starters, the ‘Hawks aren’t the Bears.

General manager Stan Bowman has three Stanley Cup rings to show that his team is in it for the long haul, not just for a quick splash. But in the last two seasons, the ‘Hawks haven’t been able to escape the postseason’s first round. Changes have been made in the offseason that have been organization-wide in efforts to get the Blackhawks back on track to being perennial Stanley Cup contenders.

One of the major problems the ‘Hawks experienced recently is their lack of player development. Players who had been drafted in the early rounds were not ready for the NHL, and the Blackhawks’ affiliate organizations were struggling. In a model where the Blackhawks’ core needs to be surrounded by young talent on modest contracts, player development is essential to the ‘Hawks’ vision.

This preseason, 2016 second-round pick Alex DeBrincat has been making his case to crack the opening night roster for the Blackhawks. He had a strong rookie tournament in Traverse City and has been gelling well with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane on the second line in camp.

At 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, DeBrincat isn’t the biggest or fastest guy on the ice. But he has a knack for scoring, which he did quite a bit of in the Ontario Hockey League with the Erie Otters.

On Thursday night in a preseason game against the Detroit Red Wings, DeBrincat lit the lamp for the first time at the United Center.

It’s clear that DeBrincat has some skill, but like Trubisky’s situation, it’s still early. The Blackhawks have the option of letting him start in Rockford with the IceHogs in the American Hockey League instead of possibly setting him up to fail at the pro level. Proceeding with caution is the conservative approach that I anticipate the Blackhawks take regarding DeBrincat no matter how well he plays in the preseason.

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Do the Bears want Trubisky to play so paying patrons of Bears games can get some enjoyment out of supporting their team? Yes, of course! But for a team that went 3-13 last year and made few impactful upgrades to player personnel, fans need to realize that this is a rebuild.

Putting in Trubisky gives you a little bit of hope and gets him some pro experience, but playing him too early and missing on a No. 2 overall pick isn’t an option at this point.

In the Blackhawks’ situation, they don’t need Alex DeBrincat. Sure they lost a 30-goal scorer in Artemi Panarin, but guys like Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp were acquired to help with that loss in production. DeBrincat is a luxury no matter who says he’s ready for the NHL, and the sooner we all realize that the better off we’ll be. He will play top-six minutes in the AHL and if he’s truly ready for the NHL, he’ll dominate at that level.

Next: Measuring Brandon Saad's Scoring Potential

The Blackhawks have all season to call up DeBrincat and with inevitable injuries, he probably will see NHL ice this year. But to throw him on a line with Kane playing in the Uniter Center in front of 22,000 people to start the season seems like unnecessary pressure. We’re not in Kansas anymore — or in DeBrincat’s case, Erie, Pennsylvania.