A Brief History
In the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, the Chicago Blackhawks were without their first-round pick. Their first pick fell at selection 39, received from Montreal as one of the pieces for Andrew Shaw.
Going into the draft, Connor McDavid’s linemate with the Erie Otters, Alex DeBrincat, was a bit of a wild card. Some scouts were in love with his skill and his ability to score, and many mock drafts had him sneaking into the top ten. However, he did have his share of detractors. Some were concerned with his size, as he stands at a meager 5’7”. Others were worried he’d be unable to produce away from Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome. All the concerns culminated with DeBrincat falling out of the first round.
As day two of the draft got underway, I found myself hoping and praying the Erie winger would continue to fall. With each successive pick, I got more and more hopeful the perfect situation would present itself. A high skill American forward from the Midwest? That’s a prototypical Stan Bowman draft pick if ever I’ve heard of one. Eventually, the Blackhawks were on the clock, and there he was. DeBrincat was sitting right there, and sure enough, Stan scooped him right up. Blackhawks fans rejoiced. All was well in the world.
This past season, DeBrincat returned to Erie to further his development and quest for the Memorial Cup. He put up another ridiculous season numbers-wise, winning the OHL championship as well as the award for the OHL’s most outstanding player. Just look at my guy’s hockeydb.
His skill level is certainly tantalizing, and there are definitely arguments to be made that he is one of the best players outside of the NHL right now. There is every chance that DeBrincat could step in as the Blackhawks new Artemi Panarin. It could happen as soon as the next season or two.
There is also every chance, however, that his game never truly translates to the league. Major Junior success, unfortunately, does not always guarantee NHL success. While smaller players have found more and more success in the league as the NHL has moved in a more skillful direction, it is still generally harder for them to succeed. This becomes especially true when they aren’t plus-plus skaters, which DeBrincat certainly is not. His skill with the puck is certainly remarkable, but it may be difficult for him to make the leap to the NHL. Here’s a take from ESPN prospect analyst Corey Pronman from back in March on the uncertainty of DeBrincat’s future:
He's probably one of hardest prospects for me to get a read on. I could see arguments for top 20 prospect outside NHL, or not top 75. https://t.co/Z9mKtIkQj2
— Corey Pronman (@coreypronman) March 20, 2017
There’s no denying his tantalizing talent though. Just take a look at this playmaking. (He’s the player in front of the net.)
Looking into the Future
There is quite a lot of hope that Alex DeBrincat steps into the lineup opening night and produces from the get-go. He’s been penciled into the second line of the Blackhawks forwards quite a lot this summer. I even put him there in my desired opening forward grouping. However, expectations need to be tempered. I’m as excited as anybody about this guy, and I think he has a great shot at being a significant contributor for the Hawks in the not-too-distant future. However, there is no guarantee he’s a success from day one, or a success at all this season. In fact, I think it’s more likely than not he starts the season in Rockford.
The best case scenario is DeBrincat steps right into Panarin’s shoes, producing magic with Kane on that second line that culminates in a Rookie of the Year award. Worst case is he struggles for the whole year in the AHL, and his NHL career is up in the air come year’s end. As per usual, the likely scenario is somewhere in the middle. My guess is DeBrincat starts the year in Rockford, comes up sometime around the halfway mark, and is a solid contributor down the home stretch.