I will never forget the probably irrational joy I felt when Alex DeBrincat and his 100+ point production from the OHL fell to the the Blackhawks at No. 39 in 2016. I was practically screaming at my television for Stan to not join his colleagues in their stupidity in passing up a top-10 talent and arguably the most natural scorer in that draft that wasn’t named Auston Matthews or Patrick Laine just because you could fit in him your pocket. Luckily Stan pulled the trigger, and after just one extra season of development in the O, Top Cat made the jump to the NHL and lit the damn world on fire.
82 Games, 28 Goals, 24 Assists, 52 Points, +6, 6 PIM
53.76 CF%, 1.85 CF%rel, 48.36 xGF%, -1.62 xGF%rel, 57.19 Zone Start Ratio
And it almost wasn’t that way. Every rumor and news tidbit seemed to indicate that Joel Quenneville wanted our precious boy to start the year in the AHL, but with each passing preseason game in which he looked like one of the best six forwards on the roster (and that number might be generous) it became more evident that not having him on the NHL roster would be a huge mistake.
So when his plan of not having him on the team didn’t work out, Q decided to go an alternate route and just put him in the most assinine roles conceivable. Move a natural left wing to the right? Check. Give him fourth line minutes with Tommy Fuckin’ Wingels and Lance Fuckin’ Bouma? Check. Combine the two? FUCKIN’ CHECK!
Now, it wasn’t always bad for Top Cat in linemate department. In reality, the two centers he spent the most 5v5 time with on the roster were Toews and Schmaltz, and that’s how it should be. The problem is, that sort of thing doesn’t immediately come to mind because again, that’s how it should be, and no one notices when things are going as expected. But they do notice spending 167 minutes opposite Ryan Hartman, or 142 minutes flanking just Artem Anisimov. That’s just 50 less minutes than he spent with Schmaltz.
But this isn’t meant to be a bitch-at-Q-about-usage post, because I already did that with Gustav Forsling. Let’s talk about the good that came from DeBrincat’s season.
He made the squad as a 19 year old, and ended up leading the team in goals with 28, beating out Garbage Dick by one. He tied with Schmaltz and Toews for second on the team in points at 52. Was 8th on the team in CF% and 6th among forwards. And in those times that he did play with subpar linemates, he still managed to play well and at times carry those players. He also is feisty as shit, and doesn’t let his size scare him away from getting scrappy when necessary, which isn’t exactly a big deal but it’s certainly not a bad thing.
There’s not much more to say about Top Cat that hasn’t already been said earlier this year. We’ve heaped praise upon the boy, and for good reason. It’s pretty obvious that Top Cat, along with Schmaltz and a few others, is the future of this team up front, and with that being the case I feel confident in saying this team’s forward group is in good hands moving forward. Top Cap has 35-goal potential if he can just get put and left on a line, and I think it’d make a lot of sense for him to play with Toews and Saad consistently next year.