ANAHEIM, Calif. — The rest of the NHL isn’t fooled by that boyish smile and the faint scruff along his jaw anymore. This guy is a sniper, and everybody knows it.
Alex DeBrincat is growing into one of the most feared scorers, not just on the Blackhawks but in the league, and while Patrick Kane’s game-winner with 16.1 seconds left was the highlight of the 4-3 win over the Ducks on Wednesday, that opportunity arose only after DeBrincat tied it a few minutes earlier.
Every goaltender’s stomach tightens when they see Kane come across the blue line with the puck, but it’s not much easier dealing with DeBrincat.
“I want to be a difference-maker every game,” he said. “Every time I’m out there, I’m gonna try to make some plays and change something for the team. I want to score those clutch goals. I want to be the guy.”
There’s no need to further convince anyone of that. With two goals against the Ducks, DeBrincat was fourth in the league at 36 going into Thursday. As Kane tracks toward the best scoring season of his career, DeBrincat is just four goals behind him.
Think back to how impressive Kane and Jonathan Toews were from the start of their careers, then consider that DeBrincat, 21, has more goals than either of them at this point.
He has the franchise record for goals in his first two seasons with 64, and he has 18 games left in this one, the next being Saturday at the Kings. It took Kane 205 games to score his 64th.
DeBrincat is one of four Hawks to post a 35-goal season at 21 or younger and is in reach of Steve Larmer’s record of 43 for that age group. He’s close to joining a small club of NHL players to hit 70 over their first two seasons.
Imagine what he’ll be by the time he hits his prime.
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“He’ll continue to get better away from the puck, but you just can’t teach what he has,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “He just has this incredible release, and he gets it on net all the time.
“He had three or four other chances [against the Ducks] where he’s getting jammed and he’s a long ways away, and he just finds a way to put it in a spot where it’s difficult for the goalie. It’s great to have a guy like that on the ice.”
The Hawks intend to see where DeBrincat’s development leads. He’ll be a restricted free agent after next season, and general manager Stan Bowman said they will secure him with a long-term extension.
The efficiency Colliton mentioned is one of the most impressive aspects of DeBrincat’s season. He averages fewer than three shots on goal per game yet has scored on 19.6 percent of those shots, fifth in the league.
He is especially potent on power plays, where he seems to find exactly the right spot to wait to unleash every ounce of his 5-7, 165-pound body into a one-timer.
DeBrincat leads the Hawks with 12 power-play goals but can get it done in any scenario. Among NHL players with a qualifying amount of five-on-five play, he is ninth in goals per 60 minutes, according to Natural Stat Trick.
The funny part, though, is DeBrincat doesn’t seem to realize he has arrived. When he talked about his stature on the team, he stepped back a moment later to point out, “Obviously, we’ve got Kaner and Tazer … just follow them and see where I can fit in.”
Stop with the deference.
DeBrincat is way past the point of trying to figure out a complementary role, and the Hawks need him to take hold of this team as a partner with those stars, rather than an apprentice. The way he has played this season puts him on even footing with anyone.
Contributing: Satchel Price