Not much has gone right for the Chicago Blackhawks this season. A trade for Brandon Saad was supposed to revitalize Jonathan Toews on the offensive end, but instead, both are on pace for one of the worst seasons of their careers.
Corey Crawford has dealt with a concussion for a good chunk of the season, and it doesn’t appear he will be returning anytime soon, although he has begun to practice with the team. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith have become shells of their former selves rather quickly.
Even past this season, things are looking bleak for the team from the Windy City, as salary cap concerns will make it difficult to add anyone going forward.
A bright spot for the Blackhawks and something they have to look forward to has been the play of Alex DeBrincat.
The rookie from the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) has put aside a rough first month of the season to bounce back and be one of the few relied upon goal scorers for Chicago.
A decorated junior career
While playing for Erie, DeBrincat was one of the best goal scorers that Canadien junior hockey had to offer. In three seasons in the OHL, DeBrincat scored 50 goals in each campaign.
During his draft year, DeBrincat scored 51 goals in just 60 games played, but due to his size, was drafted in the second round by the Blackhawks.
Returning to juniors for one year, DeBrincat was cut from Team USA's preliminary roster for the upcoming World Juniors, despite enjoying a season that would see him finish averaging two-points per game (65 goals, 62 assists, in 63 games).
Over his three-year career for Erie, DeBrincat scored 167 goals in just 191 games played, which is the record by a player for that franchise. Some of the other notable players to play for the Otters, Brad Boyes, Dylan Strome... oh and Connor McDavid.
DeBrincat would help lead the Otters to the Memorial Cup Final, where they lost to the Windsor Spitfires. The Farmington Hill, Michigan native recorded 38 points in 22 games during the Memorial Cup playoffs.
With not much left to prove in juniors, and the Blackhawks tight on cap space, plus missing a playmaker after trading Artemi Panarin, DeBrincat would graduate straight to the NHL team for this upcoming season.
Struggling team’s MVP?
It doesn’t appear as if the Blackhawks are going to make the playoffs, which would mark the first time they failed to qualify for the postseason since Toews and Patrick Kane’s rookie season.
Kane is having a decent season but is scoring at less than a point-per-game pace, something he has only done a handful of times during the course of his career.
It has been DeBrincat that has been one of Chicago’s most valued players. After registering an assist in his first career game, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, DeBrincat had a rough month of October. The rookie only registered five points in 12 games during the opening month of the season.
It has been a different story since then.
With goals in consecutive games against the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights earlier this week, DeBrincat now has 20 goals in his past 45 games since the month of October. That puts him on about a 36 goal pace over a full 82-game season counting only the month of November to now.
His true value has shown when he finds himself on the scoreboard. Chicago won five of the first six games in which DeBrincat registered a goal. Over the first 12 games in which he did so, they won 10 of them.
Even though he has scored in four games during their current losing streak, which has now reached seven games - the Blackhawks have recorded 65% of the possible standing points in games DeBrincat has registered a goal. Overall, they have a record of 10-5-1 in those games.
When he doesn’t score, the Blackhawks have recorded just 46% of the possible standing points, with an overall record of 14-20-7.
Quite the contrast.
Due to his size, there was a question of how much DeBrincat was going to be able to contribute at the NHL level. Now, 57 games into his NHL career, DeBrincat won’t win the Calder Trophy for being the top rookie, but it’s hard to imagine him not getting any votes.
It’s also hard to imagine that he isn’t going to get better and be that offensive threat capable of supporting both Kane and Toews for years to come.
Has Alex DeBrincat been the best player for the Blackhawks this season? How good could he be going forward? Let us know what you think in the comment section below.