Even with a full season of tape on Alex DeBrincat, it’s still very possible that he will be just as effective offensively for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2018-19
We should all be ashamed of ourselves. Before last season, some Chicago Blackhawks fans and others were hyping up this 18-year-old kid who tore up the Ontario Hockey League, scoring more than 100 points in three straight seasons.
But his size was what made several folks skeptical on whether his game would translate to the pros, or if he would even make it to that level. We were told to “pump the brakes,” on the 2016 second-round draft pick, but DeBrincat had no such plans.
DeBrincat made the Blackhawks out of training camp and played well enough for coach Joel Quenneville to keep him in the lineup for all 82 games of the regular season. He finished the year leading the team in goals with 28 and adding 24 assists to total 52 points, the same production as captain Jonathan Toews. His 28 goals featured three hat tricks, against rivals in Anaheim, Detroit and St. Louis.
Although his goals did come in bunches, DeBrincat didn’t exactly have the quality opportunities that other top-six forwards were given. He started the year in the bottom-six forward group shadowing veteran Patrick Sharp, yet DeBrincat still managed to get his points.
Quenneville sheltered the rookie from being defended by opponents’ top defensive units which enabled him to learn the game quickly and experiment to find his soft spots for scoring on NHL ice.
It’s important to also note that DeBrincat’s points didn’t coming cheaply. He can snipe them, crash the net and cash in, or even make some pretty nice passes. His shooting percentage of 15.5 was second on the team, showing that he’s making all of his shots count.
With 181 shots on net last season, he was very productive and probably deferred to veterans more than he should have. And that’s more than 100 fewer shots than Patrick Kane took last season.
What can we expect in 2019?
Let’s start with the most important thing that DeBrincat earned last season which is the trust of his coaches and teammates. Everybody knows that last year was abysmal and it would’ve been even worse if Nick Schmaltz and DeBrincat hadn’t carried the team for many of those hopeless games.
Trust in Quenneville’s book will get you ice time and important minutes. There is no question that if the ‘Hawks are down a goal with under a couple minutes left in the game, DeBrincat will be out there. It’s truly amazing that a kid who can’t even buy a beer can be considered one of the most lethal goal scorers for the Chicago Blackhawks.
Next, other teams now have him in their game plan. Everybody around the league knows who DeBrincat is now and won’t shy away from taking him out of the play. Hopefully he can be smart like Kane and avoid hits, but great defensive teams will try to keep his stick off the ice at all times. I’m not saying he goes through a sophomore slump, but it will get harder playing in the top-six against harder matchups.
DeBrincat will also benefit from several players around him. Kane is a pass-first player and could help DeBrincat have an even better season than his rookie year. Playing with Schmaltz also created some great chemistry. It’s also possible DeBrincat could get a look on the first line with Brandon Saad and Toews. And to top it off, Dylan Sikura could be another linemate who was one of the best playmakers in college hockey last season.
And lastly, DeBrincat will get powerplay time. The ‘Hawks were so bad on special teams, it makes no sense for the kid to be on the bench when he could be most effective. DeBrincat has already shown he can capitalize at even strength, but he could be a ‘Hawks secret weapon on the man-advantage.
It was a lot of fun watching DeBrincat be the silver lining of a dark cloud for the Blackhawks last season, but I’m convinced his performance wasn’t just a flash in the pan. This 19-year-old kid does and says all the right things and continues to learn. The ‘Hawks need to do everything they can to retain him with the possibility of giving fans at the United Center a lot to cheer about for decades to come.