It’s been a down season for Alex DeBrincat.
With only 12 goals and 23 assists in 51 games, the Blackhawks winger is far away from his 41-goal pace this past season. His current pace only brings him to 20 goals, with his current projection at 19.68. This has a lot to do with his abysmal 8.4-percent shooting percentage, but he has not changed sticks, blades or tape. Unless he’s become very unlucky, DeBrincat is now whiffing on chances he used to bury, and might be a clear cut candidate for the yips.
And that’s why Dylan Strome has surpassed Alex DeBrincat as the Blackhawks’ best young player under the age of 25.
Strome has missed 11 games due to injury this season, and he’s five points and two goals behind DeBrincat. Strome isn’t a known goal scorer, and yet he leads DeBrincat in goals for per 60 minutes of even strength time (.88 to DeBrincat’s .33) and primary points per 60 (1.87 to DeBrincat’s 1.48). Strome has also factored in on a larger percentage of points when on ice than DeBrincat has (74.19 to 70.59). Strome is therefore having a greater impact on even strength offense than DeBrincat is.
That’s reflected in deeper stats as well. Strome has a 5.1 goals above replacement in terms of even-strength offense (2.8 expected) and a .90 in terms of even-strength defense (.2 expected). DeBrincat has a .40 even-strength offense (minus-2.6 expected, he’s somehow doing better than expected) and minus-1.1 defense (minus-.3 expected). Strome has been the superior player this season:
DeBrincat is one of the Chicago’s most sheltered players with a 63.5-percent offensive zone start at even strength and still can’t get offense going with a 48.31-percent Corsi For and 41.32-percent expected goal share. Strome hasn’t been much better, but he’s improving in his own end and, when away from DeBrincat, is getting more starts in his own end.
DeBrincat and Strome’s best results remain together (64.86-percent goal share, .938 on-ice save percentage), but they’re not exactly an awe-inspiring duo with a 46.65-percent Corsi and 38.56 percent xG share, which are both lower than their results separate.
The primary defense for DeBrincat over Strome as Chicago’s best under 25 player is he has a proven track record where Strome doesn’t. DeBrincat has two seasons of more than 30 goals scored, and has continued to be one of the team’s best presences on the power play — the only area where he consistently bests Strome — even this season with eight of his 12 goals on the man advantage.
But Strome is improving on his previous seasons, and he’s building off his lesser foundation to make himself a better player. These are the duo’s RAPMs from the 2018-19 season.
Strome has done an excellent job controlling the quality of chances against, and has a positive impact on even strength defense. DeBrincat has become worse and is moving the puck worse and getting significantly worse luck. Strome is also getting worse luck, but is still finding a way to contribute. There’s not an excuse for DeBrincat.
You’d rather see improvement from a young player in other areas if both of their offense is lacking. You don’t see this from DeBrincat. You see regression, fading, and while he will likely be due for a rebound and an excellent 2020-21 season, this season has been a significant loss for DeBrincat. It’s not that for Strome because of his work in other zones.
Here’s how Strome has impacted the Blackhawks’ defense:
The Blackhawks find a way to limit high-danger chances with Strome on ice, and don’t have that ability with him off. This shows his ability to hone down, and showcases his valuable defensive presence. The lower positive here, seven against 12, is a five-point increase in this case. DeBrincat’s defense has led to a three-point decrease.
A better defender who scores fewer points is better than a defender who scores more points but allows the same number of goals against. Connor Murphy is better than Erik Gustafsson. By the same logic, Strome is better than DeBrincat with his 41.18 percent goal share without DeBrincat versus DeBrincat’s 33.33 percent goal share without Strome proves that.
Strome has done a better job limiting high-danger chances against than DeBrincat has this season (12.63 HDA/60 versus 13.15), despite the fact that, DeBrincat gets to start out more in the offensive zone.
I believe one of these players this season is a goal scorer who’s not scoring goals, and does very little else, and the other is a more reliable, playmaker/net front presence who has found a way to score, although his shooting percentage remains higher. The improvement that Strome has seen this season, and the relative reliability of his game in relation to DeBrincat’s more streaky, although higher offensive potential, game makes Strome the safer bet.
That’s proven in their current goals and wins above replacement totals: Strome stands at 6.6 GAR (2.9 expected) and 1.1 WAR (.5 xWAR), while DeBrincat is at 2.4 GAR (2 xGAR) and .4 WAR (.3 xWAR). Give me Strome any day.
Note: This is an opinion piece that does not reflect the views of all the Second City Hockey writers.