Alex DeBrincat, now with Senators, still searching for elusive team success

The former Blackhawks star has adapted his game to the Senators’ more physical style. But it appears his wait for his first real playoff run will last at least one more year.

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Alex DeBrincat has adapted his style in his first season with the Senators.

Alex DeBrincat has adapted his style in his first season with the Senators.

Chris Tanouye/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images

OTTAWA, Ontario — Former Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat wore a serious expression Thursday as he reflected on his somewhat disappointing first season with the Senators. Then one question finally caused him to break into a grin.

Might he deliver a friendly hit on somebody Friday night in his first game against the Hawks?

“Maybe Kaner,” he said. “I’ll probably have to fight after that one.”

DeBrincat and Patrick Kane, his former partner in crime, have stayed in close touch since DeBrincat was surprisingly shipped off to Ottawa at the draft last summer. DeBrincat didn’t take the rumors seriously — they were “not really something you want to believe,” he said — until the trade suddenly happened.

Since then, things haven’t gone according to plan for either player. Kane now finds himself in the midst of his own trade drama. DeBrincat said he can’t imagine Kane “wants to be in a rebuild right now,” given his competitiveness and longtime status as the Hawks’ cornerstore.

And DeBrincat, who hoped the reloaded Senators would give him a chance at his first real playoff run, hasn’t immediately found that team success.

The Senators entered Thursday in 13th place in the Eastern Conference, seven points out of a wild-card spot with a 26-24-3 record, even after winning five of their last six games. DeBrincat is familiar with the feeling of aimlessness when on the bottom edge of the playoff bubble.

“This year hasn’t gone great for us,” he said. “Coming into the year, expectations were high. We’re still a young team that’s still early in [the window of] what we have here. Maybe those expectations were a little too high. But we’re playing well right now. We’re still in the race.”

Individually, DeBrincat has adapted his style to the Senators’ grinding approach.

“We have a more physical team — everyone plays physical,” he said. “You don’t want to be the one guy that doesn’t. . . . It gets you in the game quick. You have to have that work ethic every night. I would say I had that in Chicago, too, but it’s a different beast here.”

He’s on pace for 139 hits this season, which would shatter his career high of 101 last season. Points-wise, he hasn’t been quite as prolific. He ranks fourth on the Senators in both goals (18) and points (44) over 53 games — a 68-point pace, down from 78 last season.

He’s also taking more shots than he did the last two seasons but scoring on fewer of them. And although his 51.7% scoring-chance ratio in five-on-five play is his best since his rookie year, that hasn’t translated into actual results: He has a career-worst minus-15 rating.

The fact that DeBrincat’s first meeting with the Hawks comes so deep into the season will make it “less weird,” he said. He’s comfortable now being a Senator.

And he received some reassuring news Thursday about his future in Ottawa, with Senators general manager Pierre Dorion saying there’s “no chance” DeBrincat gets traded again before the March 3 deadline.

That speculation had stemmed from DeBrincat’s contract situation; the Senators will have to tender him a whopping $9 million qualifying offer to keep him a restricted free agent in July. The Hawks’ anticipation of that conundrum played a role in their decision to move on from him.

How it will play out remains to be seen. DeBrincat said he doesn’t know much about what has been discussed in negotiations. He just hopes it leads to a situation where he’s finally winning.

“You want to play in the playoffs,” he said. “That’s definitely a goal of mine. It’s something I want to do for years to come.”

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