Blackhawks

Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat off to fast start playing with Jonathan Toews

Having played the first three games of this season on the same line as Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, winger Alex DeBrincat can encapsulate what’s expected of him in three words.

“Go to work.”

It’s the only mindset to have when it comes to playing with Toews and matching his rare combination of intangibles. But, so far, so good for DeBrincat.

Toews and Patrick Kane’s high-scoring success in the first three games has overshadowed DeBrincat’s own strong start to his second season. He is proving to be a worthy complement to Toews with the Wild up next Thursday in St. Paul.

Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat celebrates his goal with Jonathan Toews and Dominik Kahun. | Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

Blackhawks winger Alex DeBrincat celebrates his goal with Jonathan Toews and Dominik Kahun. | Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

“He’s a really smart player,” said DeBrincat, who is 10 years younger than Toews. “He’s conducting everything out there. He’s putting the puck in on nice plays. He’s been great for us obviously this season so far. He’s really gone to the net and gotten a few dirty goals. Obviously, that helps us as a line. We can move it on the outside and get the puck to the net when we’re in trouble.”

DeBrincat’s better start is obvious on the scoresheet. He has two goals and four points in three games. Last season, he didn’t tally his second goal until the Hawks’ 13th game. He also had five points over his first 12 games.

But DeBrincat’s ability to play off Toews has been extremely encouraging for the Hawks in the early going this season. He demands attention. When Toews scored the Hawks’ first goal against the Maple Leafs on Sunday, veteran defenseman Ron Hainsey trailed DeBrincat around the net. It left Toews one-on-one with defenseman Morgan Rielly in front of goalie Garret Sparks and he redirected in winger Dominik Kahun’s shot for a goal.

DeBrincat only has two secondary assists on Toews’ five goals this season, but he’s been on the ice for four of them. He wasn’t a part of Toews’ overtime game-winner against the Blues.

Kahun, the third part of their line, had the primary assists on Toews and DeBrincat’s goals in the wild, back-and-forth loss to the Maple Leafs.

“He’s been great for us on the bench,” said DeBrincat, who played with Toews in spurts last season as a rookie. “He’s playing with two younger players, and sometimes that can be frustrating for him, I’m sure. He’s good with staying calm on the bench, directing us and telling us what we can do better and what we’re doing right. He’s definitely the leader of the team and the leader of the line. He’s really helping us as we move along here.”

In previous seasons, coach Joel Quenneville used Toews’ line against some of their opponents’ best offensive threats. It’s why DeBrincat keeps many of Quenneville’s defensive messages in mind.

“Just bear down when you have the puck, keep your feet moving, and when they have the puck, just stay in your quadrant and get a quick stick,” DeBrincat said. “That’s the biggest thing, having a quick stick and have them force something or maybe poke it away.”

Being a responsible defender is how you win over Quenneville and Toews.

DeBrincat knows that, too.

“[DeBrincat] does a lot of good things with the puck,” Quenneville said. “In the tight areas, he comes up with a lot of loose pucks and influences a lot of pucks and is pretty responsible.

“That’s the one thing we noticed immediately last year was that for a young kid he picks it up. He’s got really good instincts [on] both sides of the puck, and that helps him offensively as well.”

Notes: Rookie defenseman Henri Jokiharju didn’t practice because of flu-like symptoms, but he’s expected to play Thursday. … Goalie Cam Ward will start against the Wild.