Diminutive dynamo Alex DeBrincat headlines Blackhawks prospect camp

Alex DeBrincat and Darren Raddysh haven’t exactly been texting back and forth over the last month, mapping out their career arcs and plotting their rise as the future of the Blackhawks’ core.

“Yeah, not quite,” DeBrincat, the reigning Ontario Hockey League player of the year out of Erie, said with a laugh. “We’ll just worry about making the team.”

The next step of that journey begins Monday at Johnny’s IceHouse West, where DeBrincat and Raddysh — the OHL defenseman of the year — will headline the Hawks’ annual prospects camp. Also on hand will be first-round pick Henri Jokiharju, along with seven other picks from last month’s draft. Last year’s breakout camp star, forward Alexandre Fortin, is injured and will be an off-ice participant only.

The next wave of prospects will be well-represented by forwards such as Radovan Bondra, Matthew Highmore, Matheson Iacopelli, Graham Knott and Anthony Louis, as well as defensemen Luc Snuggerud and Raddysh. But all eyes will be on the diminutive dynamo DeBrincat, who blistered the OHL last season with 65 goals and 62 assists in just 63 games, then added 38 points in 22 playoff games en route to the OHL championship. He scored 51 goals in each of his two previous seasons, playing on Connor McDavid’s line in 2014-15.

Alex DeBrincat was the 39th selection in the 2016 NHL Draft. (Getty Images)

DeBrincat’s nose for the net and ability to find open ice are undeniable. The question — one that has dogged him his entire career — is whether he has the size to compete at the highest level. He is, perhaps generously, listed at 5-7 and weighs a mere 165 pounds. The Hawks have shown time and again that you don’t have to be 6-3 to play in the NHL (witness Patrick Kane, Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen and many others), but DeBrincat will be the biggest (smallest?) test of that yet.

To counter his lack of size and speed, DeBrincat has been working on getting stronger. After taking a whopping two weeks off following the Otters’ title run, he has spent the last week working with Hawks strength coach Paul Goodman.

“It’s a little bit different than what we have back home — I’m pretty sore,” DeBrincat said. “It’s good to work with a guy that works with NHL players every day.”

DeBrincat, a second-round pick last year, spent the last season improving his defensive game and his edge work and trying to get more explosive with his first few steps. Hawks general manager Stan Bowman and the development staff surely will be eager to see what he can do at prospects camp, then again at training camp. He’s only 19, but it’s not hard to envision him cracking the lineup this season, perhaps even slotting in alongside Kane now that Artemi Panarin is in Columbus.

“I’m anxious to make my mark, and obviously try to make the team,” DeBrincat said. “I’ll most likely be in Rockford, but having that slight chance of making the Hawks is different for me. I never really had a year where I didn’t know where I was going to play. So I’m really excited to get to camp and see what happens.”

Having already been through a prospects camp last year, DeBrincat said he feels more comfortable than ever. He knows the staff, knows the other prospects and knows the drill. He also knows that Hawks fans — as they did for Teravainen in 2012 — have put some outsized expectations on his shoulders. But he’s not worrying about that. He has his own expectations.

“If you’re trying to reach the high expectations of other people, you’re probably not going to get to them when they want you to,” he said. “I’m going at my own pace and ignoring all that. Obviously, my goal is to make the team — who doesn’t want to make the team out of camp? But if that doesn’t work out, I’m just going to do whatever the Hawks want me to. This is just the beginning.”

NOTE: The Hawks signed defenseman Erik Gustafsson, a restricted free agent, to a one-year deal. He spent all of last season in Rockford.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

RELATED STORIES

Blackhawks announce 2017 preseason broadcast schedule

Playoffs a must, but not a guarantee, for new-look Blackhawks