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.