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Alex DeBrincat is a rising star in the NHL

Let’s take a look at how DeBrincat’s breakout season compares to other young stars in the league.

Dallas Stars v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The title may seem hyperbolic, but looking at the players who’ve been slapped with the “rising star” label over the last few years, DeBrincat was as good or better than many of them this season.

Yes, he had a scoring slump in the 2019-20 season despite having excellent underlying metrics, but DeBrincat course-corrected during a breakout 2021 season, and it still feels like he’s only getting started.

For simple comparison, let’s look at where DeBrincat falls across multiple categories among the other top forwards this season who are 25 or younger and have played at least 800 minutes.

DeBrincat Offense Rank 2020-21

TOI per Game Played Point per Game Points per 60 Goals per 60 EVO WAR
TOI per Game Played Point per Game Points per 60 Goals per 60 EVO WAR
20:32 1.08 3.15 1.8 11.1 2.1
6th 8th 8th 2nd 5th 9th

DeBrincat was in the top 10 in every category above, listed along with some of the most established young stars in the game today. Here are the players who ranked above DeBrincat in the categories:

  • For points-per-game: Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, and Aleksander Barkov.
  • For goals-per-60: Matthews.
  • For even-strength offense goals above replacement (EVO): McDavid, Draisaitl, and Matthews.
  • For wins-above-replacement: McDavid, Matthews, Rantanen, Draisaitl, Marner, Point, MacKinnon, and Barkov.

Detractors will try to claim that DeBrincat’s success this season was a result of playing with Patrick Kane. And while that’s partially true, it also does not give DeBrincat proper credit for how much weight he carried on that line. While Kane finished 0.1 points-per-game better and was in the top 10 forwards for points this season, DeBrincat objectively boosted Kane as much as Kane boosted him. In terms of the micro tracking stats (data for the transitional, passing, and forechecking aspects of the game), DeBrincat and Kane were often the top two on the team, but DeBrincat also edged Kane in several categories — especially as they related to shots and scoring chances. Some of those stats (per 60) were: scoring chances, high danger scoring chances, rush shots, shots off the cycle, controlled entries, entries with scoring chances, and individual expected goals.

In addition, a common thread from the list above is that every one of those players has a teammate who is also boosting them as well and have practically since their introduction in the league (Matthews and Marner, McDavid and Draisaitl, etc.). It just shows how difficult it is for a single player to be in the top tier for offense without some — and often a lot of — help from at least one other extremely good teammate. For DeBrincat and Kane, they naturally fit as a shooter/playmaker combo, and their chemistry has been growing for years. Kane is still one of the best playmakers in the league and that passing prowess is part of why DeBrincat shot stats are so high. So it’s pretty clear that DeBrincat definitely helped to keep Kane at the top as much as Kane is pulling DeBrincat up.

A single-season sample is never going to tell the whole picture when it comes to a player, so let’s compare the first four years of some of these rising stars. To note: McDavid has been excluded because he’s in a league of his own offensively, the first-year season was only counted if the player had at least 20 games played (so Mathew Barzal’s two-game cup of coffee in ‘16-17 is out), and players with less than four years played are not included (so no Andrei Svechnikov, for example).

First Four-Years Comp

Player Point per Game Goals per Game Sh%
Player Point per Game Goals per Game Sh%
Matthews 1.01 0.56 15.69
Marner 0.97 0.28 10.96
Eichel 0.91 0.35 9.75
Point 0.89 0.39 17.29
Barzal 0.87 0.26 11.62
Aho 0.85 0.39 14.02
Boeser 0.84 0.39 16.15
Connor 0.81 0.42 15.40
Debrincat 0.80 0.42 15.60
Pastrnak 0.80 0.42 13.26
M. Tkachuk 0.79 0.32 12.97
Draisaitl 0.77 0.28 14.20
MacKinnon 0.69 0.25 8.07
Barkov 0.68 0.29 13.96
Ehlers 0.67 0.30 11.84

Despite a slump last season, DeBrincat was still on pace with a lot of these other young stars: out of these 15 forwards, he’s tied for 2nd in goals-per-game and 10th in points-per-game. Pastrnak, who’s tied with DeBrincat in rates of goals and points during this span, went on to have back-to-back projected 50-goal seasons in years five and six. This isn’t a guarantee that DeBrincat will stay on such a torrential goal-scoring pace — and Pastrnak has two other elite players on his line, one more than DeBrincat — but DeBrincat was scoring goals at a rate this season that would’ve produced 50 goals in an 82-game season, so it’s within the realm of possibility that he could score at a highly consistent rate given the right situation.

The goal rate isn’t surprising as DeBrincat has been scoring in buckets since he was in juniors and he is the youngest player in Blackhawks history to reach 40 goals in a season — eclipsing the previous mark set by Steve Larmer in 1983 — but his improvement when it comes to quantity and quality of passing has elevated him to a more well-rounded offensive player. Even when he was being anchored by an unsustainably low shooting percentage in the ‘19-20 season, it was clear that DeBrincat had a year-over-year progress when it came to playmaking, as seen in his passing stats improvement. It’s unlikely he’ll ever be in the elite echelon of playmakers like Kane, but it’s just another skill set that should garner DeBrincat more acknowledgement in the future.

Even if DeBrincat never jumps into the highest tier of players like Nathan MacKinnon did in Year 5 — which let’s be real, it’s highly unlikely — the development so far is nothing to snuff at. In addition, the diminutive sniper is still arguably the best offensive forward the Blackhawks have drafted since Kane and Jonathan Toews. Let’s look at the first four years of the dynamic duo of the Cup core and some players drafted after them by the Blackhawks.

First Four-Years Comp

Player Point per Game Goals per Game Sh%
Player Point per Game Goals per Game Sh%
Kane 0.96 0.32 11.17
Toews 0.88 0.38 14.86
Debrincat 0.80 0.42 15.60
Saad 0.63 0.29 11.98
Teravainen 0.55 0.20 9.89
K.Hayes 0.56 0.24 13.06
Schmaltz 0.63 0.17 13.20
Danault 0.48 0.14 8.58
Shaw 0.42 0.23 12.93

Obviously, a few of these players either never played with the Blackhawks (Kevin Hayes) or played a majority of their first years with other teams (Phillip Danault), but it’s still interesting to see where DeBrincat stacks up. Out of these 9 forwards, he’s first in goals-per-game and third in points-per-game. DeBrincat was also the youngest among these players when he first entered the NHL at the age of 19, although he turned 20 a few months into the season to be of similar age as both Teuvo Teravainen and Brandon Saad. Speaking of Teravainen, his first four years don’t do him justice as he went on to have back-to-back seasons near a point-per-game pace in Years 6 and 7, but it illustrates that DeBrincat is ahead of that curve already and could be destined for similar, consistent production in the future.

This is all to say we as Blackhawks fans are very lucky to be able to watch DeBrincat right now, as he’s on the rise. Several of these young stars mentioned above are in the absolute cream-of-the-crop tier of the NHL. Although he likely won’t reach those heights of stardom, DeBrincat being in their company this season in terms of offensive production shows the strides he’s made over the last several years. No matter what, DeBincat’s earned more respect and deserves to have as much attention as the other budding stars in the NHL.