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Alex DeBrincat, Dylan Strome and hope for Blackhawks’ future

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The former OHL teammates are becoming vital parts of Chicago’s roster.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Chicago Blackhawks Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

After winning three straight, the Blackhawks are again raising hopes that their playoff drought won’t extend beyond this April.

But another development during the last few months suggests that, if the drought continues through this season, it won’t be around for much longer.

That’s because Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome are establishing themselves as undeniable pieces of the Blackhawks’ current and future success.

DeBrincat’s story is more familiar in Chicago, after he scored 28 goals in his rookie season. But DeBrincat has taken another step forward in his second season, scoring 37 goals through 69 games in 2018-19, putting aside any notions of a sophomore slump and eviscerating the doubts about the second-round pick’s ability to flourish at the NHL level despite his 5-foot-7 frame.

The Strome story is different, as the No. 3 overall pick in 2015 had undeniable talent but struggled to put it all together with the Coyotes. After playing in only 48 games spread across three seasons, Strome was traded to the Blackhawks and reunited with DeBrincat, his former OHL teammate with the Erie Otters. Strome’s been on fire ever since, racking up 41 points in 45 games, already more than doubling his career output in the desert (16 points in 48 games).

Their collective emergence will be crucial in assembling the pieces needed to re-create their Cup-winning puzzle.

Among the forwards, only four players remain from Chicago’s 2014-15 team that won the Stanley Cup, and one of them — Marcus Kruger — is likely playing his final games with the Blackhawks. Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad are still here, of course, but players like Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp are not. Going back a little further, the 2013 postseason version of Bryan Bickell isn’t on the current roster, either, part of the crucial depth scoring that made the Blackhawks so good in the first half of this decade.

But this is par for the course for long-term NHL dynasties. Each franchise has its star players, but there’s always a group behind them full of players who can have starring roles on playoff runs. And when there’s a significant gap between Cup victories, those faces tend to change.

  • When the Red Wings won their third Stanley Cup in 2002, the leading scorers were Brendan Shanahan and Sergei Fedorov, with veterans Brett Hull and Luc Robitaille also providing vital secondary scoring.
  • Six years later, when the Wings notched a fourth Cup, the stars were Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, with necessary support provided by players like Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler.
  • It was a similar story for the Penguins, who had a seven-year drought between their two Cup victories this millennium, then quickly added a third. For that first Cup win, the stalwarts were familiar names: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. The secondary scoring for that 2008-09 season came from players like Jordan Staal, Bill Guerin, Petr Sykora and Ruslan Fedotenko.
  • When the Penguins repeated in 2015-16, none of those secondary players were still around. It was a third line of Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin and Nick Bonino that supplemented the scoring from Crosby and Malkin.

The Blackhawks have the same stars leading the way with Toews and Kane. But gone are players like Sharp, Hossa and Bickell. This roster also lacks Andrew Ladd, Brian Campbell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Dustin Byfuglien, Michal Handzus, Dave Bolland and plenty more of the names who played key roles in the three Cups won earlier this decade.

But now, with Strome and DeBrincat, the Blackhawks have two more huge pieces to the puzzle. And that moves the franchise another step closer in its climb back to the top of the NHL mountain.