One of the best signs for the Blackhawks’ future as they finish out another disappointing season is the emergence of Alex DeBrincat as one of the NHL’s elite scorers.
As outstanding a season as Patrick Kane is having, DeBrincat tied him for the team lead in goals by ripping his 41st in the Hawks’ 3-2 overtime loss to the Kings on Saturday. He led the Hawks in goals as a rookie, too, and his leap leaves them dreaming about the potential of a 21-year-old who hasn’t hit his prime yet.
“Forty goals is a nice floor,” coach Jeremy Colliton said with a smirk. “But he’ll get better. He’ll learn more and more about how to get open in this league.
“He’s already doing a great job of it, but as a veteran guy, you learn what you’ve gotta do to produce every night. I wouldn’t say that he’s a finished product at all. He’s playing great, but he’s a kid still.”
Sadly for the kid, the phenomenal start to his career hasn’t been accompanied by much winning. The Hawks are 34-33-11 (79 points) with four games left, all against playoff-bound opponents.
They are six points behind the Avalanche for the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference and will be eliminated if they lose to the Jets at home Monday and the Avalanche beat the Blues.
The Hawks have problems, but DeBrincat isn’t one of them. He broke a six-game scoreless streak with two goals to help beat the Sharks last week and scored another against the Kings. He and Kane were fourth in the league in goals heading into Sunday’s games.
DeBrincat’s 40th came in the Sharks game, and he admitted he never imagined hitting that mark.
“You just worry about getting to the NHL, not about how many goals you’re gonna score,” DeBrincat said. “It’s a cool accomplishment for me. It’s fun to do, fun to score. Glad it happened.”
He shrugged like it was nothing. There have been many milestones already.
But all of DeBrincat’s youth-related stats — he’s the youngest player in franchise history to score 40, he owns the Hawks’ record for most goals in the first two seasons of a career and he’s well ahead of Kane’s pace at this point — are starting to seem trivial. He’s one of this team’s most dynamic players regardless of age.
He has been the Hawks’ most effective scorer this season, reaching his goal total in 108 fewer shots on goal than it has taken Kane. He is the most efficient scorer on the team, converting on 19.3 percent of his shots, which ranks eighth in the league.
He is their best power-play threat, too, scoring 13 on the man advantage. Despite his 5-7, 165-pound frame, he is deadly in those situations because he so often is in the right place at the right time to unleash a blistering one-timer.
The Hawks’ confidence that DeBrincat will keep rising is rooted partly in what he has accomplished on the ice, but also in how they’ve seen him handle his first two seasons.
He is precise in everything he does, and his approach coming off a strong rookie year was no different than when he was just hoping to make the roster as a second-round pick. He’s unusually steady for someone with so little experience.
“Sometimes being a young rookie and not knowing what you’re up against helps you to go out there and just enjoy the game and play and create and score,” captain Jonathan Toews said. “So it’s always tough to come back and back that up in your second season, and he’s done all that and more.”