Could Alex DeBrincat be the biggest steal of the 2016 NHL Draft?

Yes, yes he could be.

The Chicago Blackhawks didn’t have a first-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, so you’d be forgiven for not expecting the team to unearth a star. You usually need one of the top 10 or 15 picks to have a good shot at one. But now that we’re a couple weeks into this season, Alex DeBrincat is looking more and more like more than your average second-round selection.

It’s an incredible development less than two years after the Blackhawks drafted DeBrincat with the 39th overall pick, which the team received as part of the Andrew Shaw trade. Talk about a best-case scenario return there. Surely there’s nobody in Montreal is wishing they could take that deal back. (But hey, Habs fans, you got Phillip Danault for a pair of crummy rentals, so ... we’re even. Or something.)

But going back to that 2016 draft, it was easy to remember people at the time loving the DeBrincat pick. He was a gifted scorer who fell to the second round because of his size. If that doesn’t hold him back, he’s going to be really, really good, was a thing you’d hear people say.

And guess what? Being 5’7 isn’t holding him back, and he is really, really good. So I can’t help but wonder whether GM Stan Bowman pulled off the steal of the 2016 draft, even though it’s too premature to write down the label in Sharpie.

The numbers give us a bit of an idea here. Look at the top 10 in point production for the 2016 NHL Draft right now:

  1. Auston Matthews, 95 points in 106 games
  2. Patrik Laine, 84 points in 99 games
  3. Matthew Tkachuk, 48 points in 76 games
  4. Clayton Keller, 24 points in 32 games
  5. Jakob Chychrun, 20 points in 68 games
  6. Alex DeBrincat, 19 points in 26 games
  7. Mikhail Sergachev, 18 points in 30 games
  8. Jesper Bratt, 17 points in 26 games
  9. Charlie McAvoy, 14 points in 24 games
  10. Pierre-Luc Dubois, 11 points in 27 games

That’s eight guys drafted between overall picks 1-16, then DeBrincat and Bratt, a sixth-round pick by New Jersey.

Now, if Bratt ends up producing at a similar rate to DeBrincat, then he’s clearly the bigger steal as a sixth-round pick versus a second-round pick. Avalanche defenseman Samuel Girard (No. 47 overall), who was part of the Matt Duchene trade, and Canadiens defenseman Victor Mete (No. 100 overall) are other lower picks who have already made their NHL debuts.

But DeBrincat is quickly emerging as one of the best picks from that draft. He’s already  producing in the NHL at a time when most players selected around him are still developing. The only five players with more points than him from the 2016 class were drafted first, second, sixth, seventh, and 16th.

The Blackhawks surely had high hopes for DeBrincat when they drafted him with their first pick last year, but even they have to be pleasantly surprised with how quickly he’s acclimated to the NHL. He’s looking like a steal from the 39th pick, and a major win for the draft resume of Bowman and his staff.