Though DeBrincat and Kane have played well together when given the opportunity, separating them could help to spread the scoring around. As the majority of us know, Coach Joel Quenneville is known for making line adjustments on the fly. How the Blackhawks’ lines start are rarely how they finish.
Last season, neither Jonathan Toews or Brandon Saad had career years by any means. In fact, Brandon Saad had the worst shooting percentage (7.6%) of his career (except when he took just 3 shots in 2 games back in 2011). Furthermore, his goal, assist and point total all hit their lowest points since Saad’s rookie season. The icing on the cake? He expereienced the lowest +/- of his career (-10).
Toews wasn’t much better, either. He experienced career lows in goals (20) and +/- (-1). Furthermore, last season he hit the second lowest point mark of his career (52). While Toews numbers aren’t explicitly horrible, they’re unacceptable for a no. 1 center. Since Marian Hossa left the Blackhawks’ lineup because of a skin disorder which ended his career, the teams’ first line has hurt badly. Toews, then Saad, have been caught up in replacing Hossa’s defensive ability while stile maintaining his offensive output.
Should DeBrincat join the first line, he’d be able to replace some of the production Chicago has missed since Hossa stepped away. Additionally, he could aide two previously-offensive threats in regaining their game. Young talent has helped to revamp players before, so it isn’t much of a stretch. Then, considering DeBrincat’s pure offensive ability, and the Blackhawks just might have something working for them.
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After leading Chicago in goals for last season, the cat is out of the bag on DeBrincat (pun absolutely intended). Because he’s a known threat, a first line role could open up opportunities for both Saad and Toews. Last season, the pair felt all of the pressure to create offense. However, Alex could help to take some of that off of them which would benefit the two of them tremendously in scoring. Even if he can’t help Toews to regain his 28+ goal scoring touch, Alex would take the pressure to score off of him which would allow him to play looser or focus more heavily on being a shut-down defensive forward. Additionally, a legitimate scoring option would be a significant upgrade in comparison to say, Richard Panik or other wingers to line up with Toews in seasons prior.
Saad-Toews-DeBrincat earned 14% of fans votes.
DeBrincat On The Third Line
This approach may not be the most flattering (especially to Hawks fans, who only earned 2% of fan voting) however it may be the safest. Ideally, DeBrincat is able to continue to produce at the high level which he was able to last season. That being said, there’s a chance he undergoes a very common sophomore slump in a way many players do. Teams are more aware of what he can do on the ice, so there’s a good chance he doesn’t see the same looks he did a season ago. If he does earn time in a top-six role, he’ll be seeing significantly tougher defensive matchups.
In the situation where DeBrincat isn’t able to produce in that position, he may lose ice time and resume the mainly bottom-six role he excelled in last season. Though it isn’t the most glamorous approach in the world, it may be the smartest move for his development. The Blackhawks want to avoid a Nick Leddy situation like they experienced years ago, so sheltering DeBrincat from difficult matchups could be key for his growth in the National Hockey League.
After an electric rookie season where he lead Chicago in scoring, Q would have a tough time not giving him top-six minutes. After only one year it has become obvious the kid can play. Question is, where will he?
My bet? He starts the season playing wing with Schmaltz centering and Kane opposite him. Then, either DeBrincat’s play or Schmaltz face-off numbers force DeBrincat into the first line (creating Saad-Toews-DeBrincat), Schmaltz moves to wing and Anisimov centers the second line (creating Schmaltz-Anisimov-Kane)
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