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Blackhawks Top 25 Under 25 for 2017: Alex DeBrincat ranks No. 3 after dominating juniors

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No prospect in the Hawks’ system can match DeBrincat’s scoring potential.

2016 NHL Draft - Portraits Photo by Jeffrey T. Barnes/Getty Images

Coming off one of the most dominant OHL seasons in history, forward Alex DeBrincat rises to No. 3 in our Top 25 Under 25 rankings. He’s the top prospect in the Chicago Blackhawks’ system given the two players ahead of him on this list have already played in the NHL.

DeBrincat’s story is familiar to most of you at this point. He’s small — like, very small. Officially listed at 5’7 and 165 pounds, he’d be one of the tiniest players in the NHL. It’s apparent even seeing him from a distance.

But his numbers in juniors are so ridiculous that it’s impossible to ignore him. DeBrincat dominated juniors with his knack for the puck, quick trigger, and high energy level. While it’s not necessarily a package that will translate to the highest level of hockey, the track record so far is indicative of a potential high-level NHL talent.

Key info

Position: Winger
Birth date: Dec. 18, 1997
Acquired via: 2016 NHL Draft, second round (No. 39)
Most recent stop: Erie Otters (OHL)
Size: 5’7, 165 pounds
Contract: Three years, $778,333 cap hit

Breakdown

It was a sad day when the Blackhawks traded Andrew Shaw to the Canadiens, but we’re very close to being able to see returns from that trade. The team got the No. 39 and 45 picks in the 2016 draft, which it used to select DeBrincat and defenseman Chad Krys, who comes in No. 11 on the T25U25 list.

DeBrincat is an absolute offensive dynamo. In three seasons with the Erie Otters of the OHL, he recorded 167 goals and 332 points in 191 games. In his final year with the team, he earned OHL and CHL player of the year honors and led the Otters to the final game of the Memorial Cup. The stat line for 2016-17 combined: 165 points in 85 games.

Early on in his time with Erie, DeBrincat was seen as potentially benefitting from the talent around him. He played at times with Connor McDavid — yes, him — and 2015 No. 3 overall pick Dylan Strome. But over the past three years, he’s kept pushing his production to new heights regardless of who he’s playing with.

On ESPN’s Top 100 NHL prospects list, Corey Pronman ranked DeBrincat No. 50, down from No. 47 a year ago despite the big year. Summing up why he fell a bit, Pronman wrote, “His OHL resume suggests a top-end prospect, but when I've seen him at NHL and world junior camps, I haven't seen the same player show up.”

Now the question for DeBrincat seems fairly simple: Does he have the combination of skills necessary to overcome a lack of elite speed for someone of his size?

DeBrincat isn’t a bad skater, but he’s also not blazing fast despite being so small. That combination could plague him at the next level, where he’ll face guys who are not only bigger than him, but faster than him, too. Even though there’s so much to like about his game otherwise, from his shooting to his hockey IQ to his willingness to grind in the boards for pucks, the lack of foot speed in such a small package may limit him in the end.

Except it never did in the OHL, and as the NHL tilts toward speed over size, players like DeBrincat may find more room to survive. He’s far from a sure thing, but there’s nobody else in the Hawks’ farm system who can match the upside.

What’s next in 2017-18?

DeBrincat will compete for a spot with the Blackhawks straight out of the gate, but he’ll most likely head to Rockford to open the season. Unless he looks so good in training camp that the coaching staff thinks he can succeed in an offensive-minded role in the top six from Day 1, it makes sense to let him get reps in the AHL and build his confidence, similar to what we saw last season with Nick Schmaltz.

Of course, there’s also the outside chance that DeBrincat proves he could be the replacement for Artemi Panarin on opening day. The idea of pairing DeBrincat with Patrick Kane on the second line is tantalizing, and it’d allow the Hawks to utilize Patrick Sharp in the bottom six, deepening the entire lineup.

That won’t happen unless the Hawks think DeBrincat is ready for the show, though, and that remains an open question at this point. He’ll get a first chance to impress at the prospect tournament in Traverse City before heading to the Blackhawks’ training camp later in the month.