Alex DeBrincat showing he’s more than just a goal-scorer

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Alex DeBrincat has an empty-net goal in two straight games. (AP Photo)

In three ridiculously productive seasons in the Ontario Hockey League, Blackhawks rookie Alex DeBrincat never went more than four games without a goal — and even that only happened twice. So after going nine games without finding the back of the net, DeBrincat wasn’t about to turn down an empty-net goal. Or two. Or three, even.

DeBrincat entered the game Sunday against the Canadiens riding a two-game goal streak — both of them empty-netters. And he probably should’ve had another one Saturday in Minnesota, if not for a kick save or two from Wild defensemen.

“It’s nice,” DeBrincat said before the game against Montreal. “Pretty lucky these last two games that I’ve been out there in that situation. Hopefully, I can get one with the goalie in the net soon.”

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Despite DeBrincat’s goal drought, coach Joel Quenneville has been happy with the 19-year-old’s play all season. The game against the Canadiens was his third in a row on a line with Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik — a sign that Quenneville expects more than just offense from the kid who had 167 goals in three seasons in the OHL. Toews’ line typically draws the toughest defensive assignment, and DeBrincat has been up to the challenge.

“Most guys that have been offensive players coming into the [NHL], you’re kind of wondering how they’re going to fit in all zones without the puck, and he’s been a very good student as far as going to the right areas, playing a real solid team game [and having] a good awareness in his own end,” Quenneville said. “He’s got a good stick without the puck. His transition game from defense to offense is high-end. He really has good play recognition on both sides of the puck. Great beginning for him.”

It’s not an easy thing for such a young player to earn Quenneville’s trust so quickly, but DeBrincat seems to be following in the footsteps of Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger as an instant Quenne-ville favorite, given a longer leash because of his work ethic and vast potential.

And the kid is savvy enough to realize how fortunate a situation he’s in.

“He puts me out in a lot of different situations and kind of tests me,” DeBrincat said. “I appreciate when he puts me out there, and I know he doesn’t have to do that.”

DeBrincat spent the first few weeks of the season on a line with Patrick Sharp and Artem Anisimov. He has even seen some time on the fourth line. Now that he’s on the top line, the only players he really hasn’t played much with are Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane, with whom he made some magic early in the preseason.

DeBrincat also is back on his natural left side, which opens him up to more offensive possibilities as a right-handed shot. In the long run, all that moving around can only help speed up his development.

“It’s huge,” DeBrincat said. “You’re playing with a lot of different players with a lot of different tendencies. If you figure those out, you’ll be able to play with anyone down the road.”

NOTES: Gustav Forsling missed his third consecutive game with an apparent head injury, but Joel Quenneville said he’s very close to returning. The Hawks don’t play again until Thursday in Philadelphia.

• Tanner Kero was a healthy scratch for the seventh game in a row. He would have to clear waivers to be sent to Rockford, and it’s highly unlikely the Hawks would risk losing him.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com

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