Wednesday Night Hockey: Blackhawks’ Alex DeBrincat can’t stop scoring

Alex DeBrincat could have quit hockey. Dogged by his size — 5-foot-7 — he went through the Ontario Hockey League draft twice without being selected. But quitting would have been too easy and taken the Farmington Hills, Mich. native away from his dream of playing professionally. So he stuck with it and signed a free agent deal with the Erie Otters, putting him on a team that featured a young center named Connor McDavid.

“Hockey’s pretty much my whole life,” DeBrincat told Pro Hockey Talk recently. “[I’ve] always wanted to get to this point and be able to play hockey for a living. It’s been a lot of fun. That’s the main part — you try to not think about all the negativity that people try to put on you and just keep going forward. I wasn’t going to let a few words stop me.”

In Erie, DeBrincat found plenty of success. The Otters made the OHL Championship twice, winning once before falling in the 2017 Memorial Cup. The forward would reach the 50-goal mark in all three seasons, something that hadn’t been done since the early 1970s. He’d finish his junior career with 167 goals and 332 points in 191 games.

“I went into an Erie team at the right time and got to play with some really good players and learn from them,” he said. “That was a big step in my career. I don’t think I’d be here without that.”

His scoring prowess has continued since graduating into the NHL as one of the Chicago Blackhawks’ three second-round picks in 2016. DeBrincat has reached the 20-goal in each of his first two seasons and after finishing as the team’s leading goal scorer (28) in 2017-18, he’s currently second through 45 games this season. Not bad for someone who’s playing the sixth-most even strength minutes (14:11) per game among the team’s forwards.

The 21-year-old DeBrincat has avoided the sophomore slump that affects many young NHL players following strong rookie seasons. Being put in the middle of a veteran-heavy Blackhawks dressing room has certainly helped.

“It’s huge, especially last year we were a pretty old team at the start of the year,” he said. “You take that knowledge and try to put it in your own game. [You] take as much of their advice as you can and ask questions. They were good with trying to get you to open up and ask questions about the league and ask what they like to do. I think that helped me a lot and helped me last year and it’s definitely helped me this year, too.”

In late November DeBrincat was reunited with an old teammate when the Blackhawks acquired Dylan Strome from the Arizona Coyotes. The two haven’t played much together since the trade but Strome has enjoyed his time in Chicago so far with seven goals and 14 points in 21 games, his best output since he joined the NHL.

“It’s been awesome. It’s been a lot of fun,” DeBrincat said. “He’s really helped us a lot. He’s been playing pretty well, so it’s good to have him here.”

Consistency has been a key goal for DeBrincat over the last two seasons. He’s not had a point drought last more than four games during his career and has been put in positions to succeed under former head coach Joel Quenneville and current bench boss Jeremy Colliton.

“You’re going to go through slumps at times, you’ve just got to try to minimize the damage and keep it as short as possible,” he said.

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Ducks struggle to find answers

As a rollercoaster season continues for the Anaheim Ducks, they head into Wednesday’s action in an uncomfortable position: out of the playoffs.

Can they eventually earn a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs? It’s certainly possible, as they’re not far out. Interestingly, there’s quite a wide variety of odds when you look at prognostications from various sites.

The Ducks are in the thick of wild-card races, even as they take an eight-game losing streak into Wednesday’s contest against the Ottawa Senators. Landing a top-three spot in the Pacific seems extremely unlikely, so these bubble races are what to watch:

Still, if the Ducks grind their way to a spot in the postseason, do they have much of a chance to make a dent?

You’d expect some glum comments for a team struggling to score while mired in an eight-game skid, and that’s exactly what Ryan Getzlaf and others gave to Eric Stephens of The Athletic.

“I don’t know what else we can shake up,” Getzlaf said. “We’ve changed lines. We’ve changed defense. Everything. But we’re in this situation.”

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle acknowledged that “frustration has been developing,” as it turns out that you can only ask for some much from a goalie in 2018-19, even one as dominant as John Gibson.

If this all sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because PHT’s covered the ups and (far too many) downs of this Ducks season so far.

Back in mid-November, PHT brought up the painful (but necessary) discussion about possibly firing Randy Carlyle, which wouldn’t be a first for Ducks GM Bob Murray. Obviously, Carlyle has persisted … but so have virtually all of the Ducks’ problems.
In early December, it seemed like Murray’s patience might pay off, as Anaheim went on a hot streak. You might be shocked to realize that Gibson had a ton to do with it.
To be fair to Carlyle, injuries have been a real issue for the Ducks over the last two-plus seasons. Some of that boils down to bad luck, yet it’s fair to wonder if Murray’s patience is backfiring there, too. While Anaheim’s done a marvelous job landing quality supporting cast members despite being a contender (and thus lacking many prime draft picks) for quite some time, this is still a team that lives and dies by its big names. Unfortunately, those big-name players are getting on the older side, and many of them play physical styles that age especially poorly in today’s NHL. At least they’re expected to get Rickard Rakell back on Wednesday.
As Adam discussed in the latest edition of PHT’s Power Rankings, reality is really striking the Ducks now.

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How have Seguin, Benn responded since being called out?

Less than two weeks ago, Dallas Stars president Jim Lites called out superstar forwards Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn because they weren’t “getting it done.” The hockey community was stunned when those comments came to light. Why take a shot at your franchise players when your team depth has been a serious issue for years? Even the NHLPA jumped in to stick up for two of their own.

Immediately, many began to speculate that this was going to be the end of one or both players in Dallas. The Stars have said that they won’t be trading either player, so a divorce probably isn’t imminent. So Seguin and Benn had to find a way to get through all the noise.

How have they responded since being called out by their president on Dec. 28? Let’s take a look.

Benn played only 15:07 in a huge, 5-1, win over the Detroit Red Wings. He had just two shots on net and didn’t collect a point in the victory. But he followed that up by scoring in back-to-back games against Montreal and New Jersey. Unfortunately for him, he was knocked out of the game against the Devils after he took a questionable hit from forward Miles Wood.

The 29-year-old missed the following game against the Washington Capitals, but he was able to return the following game against Winnipeg. He finished minus-2 but didn’t register a shot on goal. He was plus-2 in last night’s win over St. Louis but, again, no points and just one shot on goal.

Benn’s possession numbers haven’t been good at all since he came back to the lineup. His CF% was a team-low 31.82 during the game against the Jets. The possession numbers were worse last night (27.59), as he and the rest of the Stars were outshot by the Blues.

The injury clearly came at an unfortunate time, but most of the Stars haven’t posted good numbers over the last two contests.

As for Seguin, he’s managed to be incredibly productive since being called out. He started out by picking up an assist in back-to-back games against the Wings and Habs. In that game against the Canadiens though, he managed to fire eight shots on goal. He took another eight shots on net against the Devils and scored twice.

With Benn out of the lineup against Washington, Seguin managed to put together another two-goal effort in a 2-1 win against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The 26-year-old registered an assist on Dallas’ only goal against Winnipeg, and he followed that up with a three-point effort (two goals, one assist) versus the Blues last night. So overall, he’s picked up six goals and 10 points in his last six outings.

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