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Blackhawks’ Alex DeBrincat puzzled by scoring drop, looking for answers entering offseason

With DeBrincat’s expensive new contract kicking in next season, the Hawks need their 22-year-old star to start scoring again.

Alex DeBrincat saw his production drop from 41 goals in 2018-19 to 18 in the 2019-20 regular season.
AP Photo/Paul Vernon

Blackhawks wing Alex DeBrincat deserves credit for one thing: He was peppered with questions about his lack of goal-scoring all season long, owned up to it and answered honestly every time.

With the Hawks’ season now over, however, DeBrincat is feeling the pressure this offseason.

‘‘[This season] was different for me,’’ DeBrincat, 22, admitted during his end-of-year media availability this week. ‘‘I’ve never really had that problem in previous seasons or most of my life. It was a learning experience.

‘‘You have to take time. Just because [the puck] isn’t going in doesn’t mean you’re not playing well. A lot of times, it’s hard to think like that. But you need to take a step away, assess your game, see how you’re playing and keep your confidence up.’’

In 79 regular-season and postseason games in 2019-20, DeBrincat scored just 20 goals, including only eight at even strength.

Making that total all the more shocking was how it contrasted with his prolific scoring the previous two seasons. In 82 games in 2018-19, DeBrincat scored 41 goals, tied for sixth in the NHL. And in 82 games in 2017-18, he scored 28 goals, third among rookies.

Last fall, his lack of productivity appeared to be a slow start. In the winter, it appeared to be a poor first half. In the playoffs this summer, he looked poised for a breakout at any time.

But the Hawks were eliminated by the Golden Knights in five games, and DeBrincat’s breakout never came. He ran out of time.

Making things more confusing for DeBrincat was that he insisted he was doing all the same things that used to lead to goals.

‘‘Obviously, they weren’t trickling in like the year before, but I feel like I was putting it where I wanted,’’ he said. ‘‘Maybe goalies are reading me better, or maybe I need to tweak something in my shot. Haven’t figured out why they weren’t going in as much this year. That’s something I’ll try to figure out.’’

The numbers largely back up DeBrincat’s self-assessment. From 2018-19 to 2019-20, his shot attempts per minute at even strength actually increased from 0.26 to 0.28. His efficiency in other even-strength categories declined slightly, with 29.4% of his attempts blocked this season versus 25.9% in 2018-19 and 55.6% of his attempts counted as scoring chances this season versus 60.7% in 2018-19.

But those declines don’t come close to explaining his precipitous drop from 24 even-strength goals to eight. The most plausible — albeit least satisfying — explanation is that it mostly boiled down to luck.

Opposing goalies had an unbelievable .952 save percentage this season against DeBrincat, generally one of the Hawks’ best snipers, after having an .860 save percentage against him during his first two seasons.

Unfortunately, it still falls on DeBrincat to find a way to overcome that misfortune.

His three-year contract extension with a $6.4 million annual cap hit, which he signed before the season opener in October, kicks in this coming season. That’s a sizable cap hit the space-strapped Hawks can’t justify if DeBrincat doesn’t start producing again.

So he’s going back to the drawing board this offseason.

‘‘[I’m going to] just get back in the gym, probably start skating relatively soon,’’ DeBrincat said. ‘‘We had a long break before the playoffs, so I don’t need too long here to get back on the ice, start working on some things. . . . [I’m] trying to get back on track, become a better player.’’