Blackhawks defensemen share what makes Alex DeBrincat’s shot so difficult to defend
For Riley Stillman, it’s DeBrincat’s “three feet wide” wheelhouse. For Connor Murphy, it’s how he can shoot from many locations around his body. And for Caleb Jones, it’s the quickness of his release.
For Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones, it’s the quickness of the release that makes it so deadly.
‘‘It’s just a bullet,’’ he said. ‘‘It’s hard to get a stick on his stick when he can push it and pull it in certain areas.’’
Jones is talking about forward Alex DeBrincat’s shot — arguably the most impressive skill possessed by any Hawks player at the moment.
For five seasons now, DeBrincat has used it to establish himself as one of the NHL’s most dangerous goal-scorers. Since entering the league in 2017, DeBrincat has unleashed it 1,725 times and found the back of net 153 times. That puts him eighth in the league in goals during that span and makes him the 24th player since 1990 to score more than 150 goals in his first five seasons.
But no matter how much his shot terrorizes the NHL’s other 31 teams, they never will have to face it as often as the Hawks’ own defensemen do in practices, scrimmages, morning skates and casual competitions during the course of the season. Indeed, they have the best sense of what makes it so effective — and so difficult to defend.
So why not ask them exactly what makes it so good?
‘‘He has a real good ability to release it in a lot of different ways, get a shot off quickly and also change the point of release,’’ Jake McCabe said. ‘‘A lot of the good goal-scorers around the league, they can change that point of release, [like] an Auston Matthews, who is always pulling it toward his feet and releasing it.
‘‘[Alex is] no different. He can change that way to find the shot lane for himself. He’s elite at getting his shot off, whether it’s a one-timer or a puck on his backhand to his forehand. He always finds a way to get a really good shot on net.’’
It’s worth noting the Matthews comparison is something DeBrincat takes pride in himself. On long summer days shooting hundreds of pucks or during late nights watching highlights from around the league, he often keeps the Maple Leafs star in the front of his mind, hoping to emulate — or maintain pace in the scoring race with — him.
Although McCabe did well in his overview of the elite aspects of DeBrincat’s shot, some of his fellow defensemen followed the prompt more closely, identifying one specific thing that makes it most dangerous in their eyes.
‘‘What makes it so hard is he can fire it off so many different places around his body,’’ Connor Murphy said. ‘‘He seems to snap it harder than anyone, winding up when he can do it just off his front foot.
‘‘As a [defenseman], when you’re [spaced] out . . . you’re always trying to get a stick on his release or get your legs in the way of the shot. But you can’t read it when he releases it so deceptively like that.’’
Caleb Jones has experienced the same challenge of trying to stick-check DeBrincat when he gets the shooting twinkle in his eye.
‘‘He’s got a sneaky release,’’ Jones said. ‘‘It’s really quick. It kind of pops off his stick. You might have your stick right on the puck there, and he kind of just snaps around your stick. . . . His shot, it’s something I haven’t seen. It’s pretty impressive.’’
DeBrincat often can use a defenseman trying to block or deflect his shot to his advantage, McCabe explained.
‘‘When you’re trying to go stick-on-puck, as soon as you’re poke-checking, that subtle movement of a drag to shoot between your triangle — shoot it between your legs — is tough to defend,’’ McCabe said. ‘‘And it’s really tough on the goalie because . . . [the puck is] shooting through screens.’’
DeBrincat’s one-timer has improved significantly, too, allowing the Hawks to start designing their power play around setting up one-timers for him along the inner ring of the left-side faceoff circle. He has scored 12 power-play goals this season, up from nine last season and 10 the season before.
Riley Stillman mentioned DeBrincat’s ability to rip one-timers off many types of passes as another elite skill.
‘‘It seems like his wheelhouse is 3 feet wide,’’ Stillman said. ‘‘He hits the net with everything. Whether you pass it to him [at] 2 miles an hour or 100 miles an hour, he can still hit it.’’
But the quickness, deceptiveness, adaptability and location versatility of DeBrincat’s shot only matter if the accuracy is there, too. He has that skill, as well, of course.
‘‘It’s not necessarily about how hard your shot is; it’s about how quickly you can get it off and where you can put it,’’ DeBrincat said. ‘‘[In practice], I just try to pick a corner and keep hitting that corner and then move on to other spots. Accuracy is a big thing in this game, too, with goalies being so good and reacting so quick.’’
DeBrincat has put all of these talents on display time and again this season, marching through arguably his best individual season in spite of the Hawks’ struggles. He’s on pace to top his previous career high of 41 goals, set in 2018-19, and still might flirt with 50 if he remains red-hot down the stretch.
And none of the Hawks’ defensemen is upset about that, especially given that they’re not the ones responsible for any of the official goals filling up DeBrincat’s stat sheet.