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Alex DeBrincat plans to learn from goal-scoring slump, be ‘better player’ for Blackhawks

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The 22-year-old scored only 18 goals this past season after a 41-goal campaign in 2018-19.

Chicago Blackhawks v Vegas Golden Knights - Game Five Photo by Dave Sandford/NHLI via Getty Images

Alex DeBrincat has made a name for himself as a goal scorer.

He scored 51 goals in back-to-back seasons for the Erie Otters in the Ontario Hockey League before the Blackhawks selected him in the second round of the 2016 NHL Draft. In his first post-draft season, he scored 65 goals for Erie then broke into the NHL with a team-high 28 goals during the 2017-18 season and had 41 goals (second only on the team to Patrick Kane’s 44) in the 2018-19 season.

His 69 goals through two NHL seasons helped him land a three-year, $19.2 million contract extension Oct. 3, 2019. But then his goal total dropped to 18 in 70 games before the NHL was paused March 12 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was different for me,” DeBrincat said Wednesday during his end-of-season media availability. ”Never really had that problem in previous seasons or most of my life, so it was a learning experience. I think you’ve got to take time, just because it’s not going in doesn’t mean you’re not playing well. A lot of times it’s hard to think like that when things aren’t going in for you, but you need to take a step away and assess your game and see how you’re actually playing and keep your confidence up.”

One factor that played a part in DeBrincat’s slump was a career-low 8.7 shooting percentage after a 17.2 percentage in his first two campaigns. His expected goals and goals above expected also dropped from his sophomore season to his third season, 22.8 to 20.5 and 18.2 to minus-2.5, respectively.

“I think a little bit of both,” DeBrincat said about whether his regression was bad puck luck or if he could’ve done more. “The previous [season] I had a lot of goals that maybe shouldn’t have gone in. Obviously I can go back and watch the games and see how I did. But over the [offseason], I’m going to continue to keep working, shoot a lot of pucks, get my shot better and hope the bounces go in next [season].”

DeBrincat, 22, couldn’t identify why he didn’t score as many goals as he normally does, and said he’ll review games from this past season to try to find answers.

“I feel like I was putting it where I wanted, maybe goalies are reading me better or maybe I need to tweak something in my shot,” DeBrincat said. ”When it’s not going in, you have to figure out in your own mind how you can keep it simple and get to the net more. I feel a lot of the time this year I was playing on the perimeter. Maybe if I’m net front, maybe one goes off my shin pad and gives me confidence for the next game.”

There was hope DeBrincat’s goal scoring prowess would return in his first NHL career postseason experience after four months off and a strong training camp in July. But it didn’t come as he had four assists (two primary, both in Chicago’s 6-3 loss in Game 2 against the Oilers) and no goals through six postseason games.

He was determined to end the drought in Game 3 of the first round series against the Golden Knights with 10 shot attempts (eight on goal), but didn’t find the back of the net. He then had four shots on goal in the Blackhawks’ 3-1 win in Game 4, and finally ended his goal drought with an empty-netter with 11 seconds remaining. DeBrincat scored an even-strength goal late in the first period in Chicago’s 4-3 loss in Game 5.

“For me, just wondering why they’re not going in. Working hard to try to put them in, but they wouldn’t go. You can still do a lot of things without scoring goals and a lot of good things to help your team win. It was a good learning thing for me to go through and hopefully it makes me a better player down the road.”

Stats via Elite Prospects, Money Puck, Natural Stat Trick