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Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25: Alex DeBrincat debuts at No. 4

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The Blackhawks’ top pick in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft ranks No. 4 on our list of their best young players.

CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

To say the Chicago Blackhawks got lucky when Alex DeBrincat fell down the draft board to them at pick No. 39 in the 2016 NHL Draft would not necessarily be inaccurate. DeBrincat was originally ranked as a first-round pick by many draft experts, and was ranked No. 21 among North American skaters on NHL.com’s final draft rankings, so his falling out of the first round and nearly a third of the way through the second round was a bit of a shock to many.

Add in the fact that the Blackhawks weren’t even supposed to pick at No. 39 until two nights before the draft — when they traded Andrew Shaw to the Montreal Canadiens for the 39th and 45th picks in the draft — and the fact that they ended up with DeBrincat has a tinge of luck to it.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good — or, in the Blackhawks case, lucky and good.

Key info

Position: Left wing
Birth date: Dec. 18, 1997
Acquired via: Second round pick (No. 39 overall) in 2016 NHL Entry Draft
Most recent stop: Erie Otters (OHL)
Nationality: American
Size: 5’7”, 163 lbs.
Contract: None

Breakdown

DeBrincat most certainly earned his reputation as an elite goal scorer and potential first-round pick in the summer’s draft after posting back-to-back 51-goal seasons for the OHL’s Erie Otters. However, his goal-scoring ability isn’t the extent of his offensive skill.

DeBrincat surpassed 50 assists in each of the last two seasons, was well, with 53 in 2014-15 and 50 in 2015-16. And while his point total did fall from 104 in 2014-15 to 101 last season, his points per game rate climbed from 1.5 to 1.68, as he appeared in eight fewer games (60 rather than 68). His performance in the CHL playoffs also improved last year, as he improved from 16 points in 20 games in 2014-15 to 19 points in just 13 games last season.

However, while DeBrincat’s numbers over the last two seasons are undeniably impressive, some might argue that they are less a product of his own ability, and more a result of him playing with two of the NHL’s best prospects from the past few years. DeBrincat flanked Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome — the Nos. 1 and 4 overall picks from the 2015 NHL Draft, respectively — for the majority of the past two seasons. Playing with two generational talents is sure to elevate any player’s game.

Still, to assert that DeBrincat only produced at that level because of who he played with unfairly discounts DeBrincat’s own skill. While playing with McDavid and Strome assuredly helped elevate DeBrincat’s game, if DeBrincat was unable to produce at a high level, it’s unlikely that he would do so regardless of who his linemates were. Moreover, it’s difficult to argue that DeBrincat playing with McDavid and Strome would not have been able to benefit the game of those two, as well.

Another reason many believe fell to DeBrincat’s fall down the draft board in June was his lackluster performance at the 2016 World Junior Championships. DeBrincat posted just one goal in five games for Team USA, leading some talent evaluators to doubt if he is really capable of playing at a high level.

At the end of the day, DeBrincat is a major addition to the Blackhawks’ farm system, which has recently become somewhat barren in terms of elite talent. If DeBrincat can continue to develop his goal scoring ability and offensive prowess, he should develop into a very good scorer in the NHL, and could even develop into a top-line talent.

What’s next for 2016-17

DeBrincat will likely return to the Erie Otters for a third season in the OHL, as evidenced by the fact that he is not on the Blackhawks’ training camp roster. This next season could very well be the most important year of DeBrincat’s development, as he will surely face a tougher test of his offensive prowess with Erie expected to lose Strome to the NHL.

Playing with a new center — his third in three years — will surely be trying for him, but if DeBrincat can continue to perform at a high level, he will cement his place as a top prospect in the NHL, and could even earn himself a shot at the NHL in 2017-18.

Second City Hockey's Top 25 Under 25 rankings

No. 4: Alex DeBrincat

No. 5: Ville Pokka

No. 6: Ryan Hartman

No. 7: Vincent Hinostroza

No. 8: Tyler Motte

No. 9: John Hayden

No. 10: Mark McNeill

No. 11: Fredrik Olofsson

No. 12: Chad Krys

No. 13: Erik Gustafsson

No. 14: Luke Johnson

No. 15: Tanner Kero

No. 16: Artur Kayumov

No. 17: Carl Dahlstrom

No. 18: Dennis Gilbert

No. 19: Luc Snuggerud

No. 20: Robin Norell

No. 21: Robin Press

No. 22: Dylan Sikura

No. 23: Graham Knott

No. 24: Anthony Louis

No. 25: Roy Radke

Honorable mentions: Radovan Bondra, Joni Tuulola, Mathias From, John Dahlstrom, Lucas Carlsson