Chicago — One bright spot for the Blackhawks has been the play of rookie winger Alex DeBrincat (Farmington Hills).
The 20-year-old is proving NHL players come in all sizes. The 5-foot-7 DeBrincat has 12 goals, which ranks third on the Blackhawks, and 11 assists and has earned recent playing time on the top line with Jonathan Toews and Brandon Saad.
But since DeBrincat scored his first NHL hat trick Nov. 27 against the Ducks, he has only two goals.
DeBrincat did most of his scoring on the third line, usually teamed with Ryan Hartman and Patrick Sharp. Of his seven goals in five-on-five play, he scored four with Hartman and three with Sharp, according to naturalstattrick.com.
DeBrincat has only one five-on-five goal with Toews despite playing eight more minutes with Toews than Hartman. He has zero goals with Saad in more than 80 minutes of five-on-five ice time.
So perhaps that was a reason DeBrincat found himself back on the third line with Hartman for the Blackhawks’ 4-1 loss last weekend to the Devils. He may have earned time on the top line, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he is best suited for playing there at the moment.
“It seemed like he had the puck more,” coach Joel Quenneville said of DeBrincat’s play on the third line.
“Without it, he’s pretty effective on where he needs to be and how he goes around the ice in all the zones. But for him, it’s (good to) have that puck and play to your strengths.”
Playing on the third line has its advantages for a rookie. Quenneville often deploys Toews’ line against other teams’ top lines, and Toews’ line attracts the opponent’s top defensive lines or pairings.
Moving DeBrincat to the third line may enable him to draw more favorable defensive matchups and unleash his scoring prowess more regularly.
But at least Quenneville has enough faith in DeBrincat to put him on the top line and give him those minutes. It’s a sign he trusts DeBrincat enough defensively to put him in those situations.
“Offensively, we saw him make plays,” Quenneville said. “I was really pleased with how well he was adapting to our own end and without the puck. That helps with his overall possession game.
“So whether he’s playing with Johnny or playing against some second or third set of (defensemen), I still think gradually he’s going to have to get that opportunity, and I think he can handle it.”
DeBrincat said his defensive game will evolve with experience.
“I’ve had to pay a lot of attention to detail in the D-zone this year,” DeBrincat said. “That’s something I worked on a lot last year, to get my D-zone play better. That work has kind of paid off. I’m not perfect, but I’ve come a long way from where I was a few years ago.
“Getting stronger would help me out, and just improving my all-around game. You can never be too good at something.”
DeBrincat has been good at scoring goals, and the Blackhawks want him to keep doing that.