Alex DeBrincat has been a polarizing player in Chicago ever since he made his NHL debut during the 2017-18 season. His performance this season, however, might finally put Blackhawks fans at ease. But in order to figure out where he’s going, let’s back-up a bit and discuss where he’s been.
After being selected by the Blackhawks in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft, DeBrincat managed to produce a *third* OHL season in which he scored over 50-goals (65, to be exact) for the Erie Otters. That was the most goals scored in the OHL since John Tavares potted 72 during the 2006-07 season and tied for the tenth-most in a season in OHL history. The bar was set high and he nearly missed it.
That said, DeBrincat got off to a relatively slow start in his first NHL season and was even on the verge of a demotion to Rockford, when a scoring outbreak in the middle of the year cemented him as an NHL regular. The final tally in his rookie season included 28 goals and 52 total points.
DeBrincat followed that performance with a 41-goal season the following year, finishing second on the team in goals and third in points with 76. And, indeed, a debate over what kind of contract extension the then 21-year-old winger had earned immediately began. Ultimately, DeBrincat and the Blackhawks got a deal done prior to the following season on a three-year extension worth $6.4M in AAV through the 2022-23 season.
Following that deal, however, the wheels fell off. During the 2019-2020 campaign, DeBrincat posted just 18 goals and a career-low 45 points in 70 games. And so that annual $6.4M deal didn’t look nearly as good for the under-sized forward whose main purpose on the roster was to score … a lot.
“He’s too small!” “Too one-dimensional!” “Fire Bowman!”
You know, the usual outcries from Blackhawks fans when things don’t go well surrounding DeBrincat.
But every player goes through slumps and from time to time, and it’s fair to wonder if DeBrincat would have reached the 20-goal mark if the season wasn’t cut short. After all, a 20-goal season “slump” is something of a luxury, and we’ve since come to learn that it is not likely the norm for DeBrincat.
Indeed, you could build skyscraper out of the amount of iron DeBrincat hit in the 2019-20 season. Shooting 8.7%, DeBrincat ranked eighth on the team among players who shot at least 90 pucks on net last season.
But really, that’s the end of the bad.
This season, DeBrincat is leading the NHL with an 18.8% shooting percentage (among players with 100 shots on goal). He has 19 goals in 33 games, surpassing last season’s total in less than half the number of games, which puts him on a 47-goal pace over a normal 82-game season. He also ranks tied for fourth in the NHL in goals and is second on the Blackhawks with 36 points. His four multi-goal games this season are second only to the league’s leading goal-scorer, Auston Matthews (6).
So, basically, yes, it’s fair to say that he’s found his form again, proving that last season was little more than an outlier, while making the contract suddenly look good again. But even that’s not all.
DeBrincat has also added a playmaking dimension to his game that had been overshadowed by his inflated goal numbers coming out of Juniors and in his first two seasons (no doubt it helps to play with skill players like Pius Suter and Patrick Kane primarily this season). In fact, DeBrincat has even been compared to Kane’s old buddy, Artemi Panarin, who played a stellar two-man game with Kane during the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.
CONFIRMED: Patrick Kane won't retire until Alex DeBrincat retires!
— Blackhawks Talk (@NBCSBlackhawks) March 10, 2021
Kane won the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP with Panarin on his line in 2015-16 and is in the running for the Hart again this season playing with DeBrincat on his wing. That’s not to say DeBrincat and Panarin are the same level of player, but the gap is much smaller than some think and I don’t think Kane cares much either way at this point.
DeBrincat is still small, yes, but he’s far from being the “too small for the league novelty” player people make him out to be. While he’s just 5’7” and 175 pounds, we’ve seen him not shy away from contact, get into the corners and fight for pucks, and even drop the gloves at times. He has been able to avoid major injuries so far in his NHL career (knock on all the wood) and there’s no reason to believe he’ll ever be a pushover in the league.
Beyond the 2022-23 season remains to be seen as to what the Blackhawks roster will look like. A ton of contracts are expiring at that time, including DeBrincat’s current extension. I would believe that the organization knows the value he brings to the table and have no doubts they see him as being part of the long-term future and next generation of Blackhawks success.