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Sit Back, Relax, and Strap It Down – ’17-’18 Blackhawks Player Previews: Alex DeBrincat

It may sound kinda strange to say about a team that has had more success than all but one of the other teams in the NHL over the past decade, but the Blackhawks have only had a few prospects to truly get excited about in this era. There’s been Saad, Schmaltz, and of course my perfect and special boy Teuvo, but otherwise most of the prospects in the past few years have been mostly middle of the road guys, and most of those guys have ended up being disappointing. But when they were able to draft Alex DeBrincat with the 39th overall pick in last year’s NHL draft, they got probably the best scoring prospect they’ve had in a while.

2016-17 Stats (w/ OHL Erie)

Regular Season: 63 GP – 65 G – 62 A

Playoffs: 22 GP – 13 G – 25 A

A Look Back: DeBrincat has torn up the OHL for the past three years, with his best overall production coming just last season when he posted 127 points in 63 games for a 2.22 points per game average. He was essentially a lock to score a goal and assist on a goal every time he was in the lineup. That came a year after he posted 101 points (51 G, 50A) in 60 games during the ’15-’16 season and 104 points (51 G, 53 A) in 68 games in ’14-’15.

DeBrincat has played most of the last three seasons with some damn good linemates. He was Connor McDavid’s winger in ’14-’15 and spent most of the past two seasons with Dylan Strome as his pivot. It’s no secret that playing with the best player to enter the NHL in the last decade and another of the game’s top forward prospects is sure to help any player put up some major points, especially in juniors. But watching DeBrincat play makes it clear he’s more than just a passenger along for the ride with elite centermen.

He moves well in just about every sense you can think of. He’s fast and agile on his feet, and his passing ability and vision are just about elite. His wrist shot is quick, and is just about accurate enough that it could take down a buck at 500 yards. If he was 6’2″ with all of the ability, he’d probably have been a top-10 pick in 2016. Instead, he’s 5’7″, was ranked in the 20’s before falling to 39, and has critics – including everyone’s favorite HockeyBuzz fool – questioning his ability to stick at the NHL level due to his size.

A Look Ahead: Listen, I get the fascination with size in the NHL. It’s a physical game, and in a physical battle you’re probably going to favor the bigger man. But hockey isn’t a game won by hit counts, PIM, or fights, it’s won with goals, and DeBrincat can stuff the fucking stat sheet. Besides, in a league that has seen the likes of Johnny Gaudreau, Tyler Johnson, Conor Sheary, Artemi Panarin, and countless others succeed while also being “undersized” (notice I omit the word “despite”), there’s no reason to think DeBrincat can’t succeed at the NHL level too.

Now that I’ve stepped down off my high horse while discussing our jockey-sized hockey players (sorry), it’s time to think about where DeBrincat fits with the Hawks moving into this year. The assumption seems to be that he’ll start in Rockford, and not for lack of reason. The Blackhawks have shown a willingness to be patient with their top prospects in recent years, and even overpatient at times. They – namely Q – have a tendency to hold their top level prospects back a few months in favor of boring ass veterans who serve no purpose other than depth. Never forget that it took an injury to Carcillo to get Saad up here to begin with, and Teuvo spent too damn long in the AHL in 2014-15 as well.

With that being said, it’s worth noting that the Hawks did not do the same last year with Nick Schmaltz, as he started the year with Chicago and ended up staying with them for most of the year, playing 61 games in Four Feathers compared to 12 in the Hog. And on a team that is damn near starved for top end forward production, if DeBrincat shines in camp (and he already got started at the Traverse City Rookie Tournament), they’d be folly to leave him out for some of the Nickelback rejects they have for forward depth.

Regardless of when he does get the nod, I think it’s inevitable that we’ll see ADB (that’s his new shorthand name and you heard it hear first, motherfucker) in the Four Feather Sweater this season, barring injury or a major shitting of his pants in the A. There are two main places I see him fitting into the lineup. One would be on the wing opposite Kane, because dammit if DeBrincat isn’t as close to Panarin-lite as it comes. He can skate and pass with Mr. Madison 2012 all day long, and is almost certainly a better fit there from the start than Patrick Sharp.

The other spot that he could slot in well would be on the third line flanking Schmaltz, who has a pretty similar playing style to that of Dylan Strome. Those two along with another fast, skilled forward (not there are a ton of them) like maybe Hinostroza could skate circles around opponent’s bum lines and create some havoc.

In terms of what to expect from DeBrincat, using Behind The Net’s League-to-League conversion method, his 2.22 PPG last season would convert to roughly 52 points in a full 82 game NHL season. If he puts up those numbers, I think we’ll all be thrilled. Hopefully he just works on his hair choices.

All Stats via Elite Prospects

Photo via a guy on Twitter

Previous Player Previews:

Corey Crawford

Anton Forsberg

Duncan Keith

Connor Murphy

Michal Kempny

Brent Seabrook

Gustav Forsling

The 6th D-Man

Artem Anisimov

Lance Bouma

Laurent Dauphin