The Chicago Blackhawks just signed The Next Big Thing, and he might be smaller than you. Alex DeBrincat, the No. 39 pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, agreed to a three-year entry-level contract with the Blackhawks on Monday. He’s already the best prospect in the organization, so let’s just take a lil bit to get way too excited about this.
DeBrincat’s signing comes after he began the 2016-17 season by absolutely shredding the OHL to parts. He’s up to 17 goals and 18 assists in just 14 games with the Erie Otters, which is as crazy as you think. The goal total leads the OHL, and only linemate Taylor Raddysh, a Tampa Bay Lightning prospect, has more points this season.
This is what DeBrincat did the previous two seasons, too, except those years he shared lines with Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome, respectively. What if he was being boosted up by playing wing for two elite center prospects? That’s part of why he dropped to the second round of the draft.
The other, more significant reason is that DeBrincat is straight up small for a professional hockey player. He’s listed at 5’7 and 165 pounds, which would make him one of the smallest players in the NHL. I’d feel downright comfortable standing next to him.
However, DeBrincat has had fans for a while. ESPN’s Corey Pronman ranked him the No. 15 prospect in the 2016 draft class, and praised Chicago for selecting him. You figure he wouldn’t have fallen much further in the draft if Chicago selected someone else. “He's a highly skilled winger who shows above-average to high-end speed, puck skills, vision and finishing skill,” Pronman said.
DeBrincat can’t disprove the questions about his size until he actually reaches the NHL and shows what he can do. The league is becoming increasingly speed-oriented, though, which is an evolution that’ll favor players like DeBrincat. And in the meantime, he just keeps scoring and scoring, to the extent that it’s almost impossible to ignore.
You could make a good argument that DeBrincat has been the best player in the OHL this season.
|Statistic||Goals||Assists||Points||Shots On Goal||Goals Per Game||Points Per Game||Shots Per Game|
There are a lot of ways that scouts and executives evaluate and project players, but nothing is more useful than actual on-ice performance. That’s where DeBrincat shines. His two-way game will be limited by his size, but he’s been so good in real competition that it’s difficult not to get excited.
He. just. keeps. scoring ...
Alex DeBrincat's first goal today.— Blackhawks Breakdown (@HawksBreakdown) November 2, 2016
"Bow to your sensei." pic.twitter.com/xWSKbeQ0Ej
And scoring ...
And scoring ...
CHI prospect Alex DeBrincat with the wrap around goal tonight. pic.twitter.com/epD9s86Eje— Blackhawks Breakdown (@HawksBreakdown) November 5, 2016
For some perspective, nobody has scored more points in an OHL season over the past decade than Patrick Kane’s 145 with the London Knights in 2006-07. That season, he averaged 2.5 points per game, which is exactly the pace DeBrincat is on right now. McDavid, in his season playing with Strome and DeBrincat at Erie, averaged 2.55 points per game.
This isn’t to say that DeBrincat is anywhere near as good as those guys, or that he’ll maintain this level of production all season. But averaging 2.5 points per game in the OHL is special, and his stats will be impressive even if he slows down a little bit.
At this point, he’s missed three games this season. If he kept up his current pace and didn’t miss anymore games, here’s how his numbers at the end of the season would compare to some of the OHL’s biggest performances from the past decade.
|ALEX DEBRINCAT (projected)||2016-17||65||78||84||162||2.50|
And this isn’t some fluke for DeBrincat, either. Last season, he finished with 101 points, tied for seventh in the OHL. It was the first year the league officially tracked shots on goal, and he finished second in shots per game behind Kings prospect Spencer Watson. This season, he’s fourth in SOG per game, so he’s continuing to be a high-volume shooter, which is one of the best indicators of future scoring ability.
Before the season, we rated DeBrincat as the No. 4 player under age 25 in the Blackhawks’ organization behind Artemi Panarin, Nick Schmaltz and Gustav Forsling. Among players not currently on the NHL team, he’s clearly the team’s No. 1 prospect and it’s not even close. After being ranked No. 47 on Pronman’s top NHL prospect list before the season, I imagine he’ll be even higher in the midseason update.
It’s unclear when exactly DeBrincat will get his shot in Chicago. He’ll be eligible to join the team once Erie’s season is over, but the Hawks may prefer to give him some time in the AHL first. According to The Athletic’s Scott Powers, DeBrincat will be eligible to play for Rockford next season because he’ll be 20 years old by the end of the 2017 calendar year.
Whenever he does arrive in Chicago, DeBrincat should be one of the most talented (and most fun) players on the Blackhawks. No prospect is a sure thing, but one who produces like DeBrincat has a better chance than others. It’s okay to get excited about him.