When we reflect upon the 2016 NHL draft years from now, we’ll always begin at the top with a pair of generational talents in Toronto’s Auston Matthews and Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine.
Pretty soon, though, it may also be known as the draft in which nearly the entire league passed up a 5-foot-7 kid out of Farmington Hills, Michigan, by the name of Alexander DeBrincat.
By the numbers
Best in classTop five goal scorers from 2016 NHL draft:
Player G GP G/gm
A. Matthews (1) 52 104 .50
P. Laine (2) 47 97 .48
M. Tkachuk (6) 17 99 .17
C. Keller (7) 11 30 .37
A. DeBrincat (39) 10 24 .42
* Number in parentheses is where player was drafted overall
Top rookiesPlayer G A Pts.
M. Barzal, NYI 6 18 24
B. Boeser, Van. 11 11 22
C. Keller, Ariz. 11 10 21
A. DeBrincat, Chi. 10 8 18
N. Hischier, NJ 5 13 18
W. Butcher, NJ 2 16 18
(All stats through Tuesday’s games)
The Chicago Blackhawks, who grabbed DeBrincat with their first pick at No. 39, are reaping the rewards of some serious short-sight by many GMs because the 19-year-old appears to be well on his way to stardom.
DeBrincat lit up Anaheim on Monday by scoring three times in less than 20 minutes, and he now has 10 goals on the season. Nine of those have come in the last 12 games, and it’s beginning to look like DeBrincat might be a perennial 25-35 goal scorer.
“He does all the things that scorers do,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “How good he’s going to be, it’ll be fun to watch that play out because he has the makings of being a special player.”
So special that he’s drawing comparisons to a young Patrick Kane and is suddenly a contender for the Calder Trophy for the league’s best rookie.
Said linemate Patrick Sharp: “He’s gaining confidence, more and more every day. He’s got that scoring touch.”
That was true in the OHL, a junior league known for its scoring, where DeBrincat scored a whopping 167 times in 191 games.
Scoring at will against other teenagers is one thing. Continuing to contribute and score on a regular basis in the NHL is another, and many wondered if DeBrincat could keep it up.
“He’s always been against it in his career — not a big guy,” Quenneville said. “The big test for him is how would he be able to handle guys that are much bigger, stronger, experienced? I’ve got to commend him how well he’s fit in.”
Quenneville has been effusive in his praise of DeBrincat’s awareness without the puck and understanding the Hawks’ structure. He often ends up in the slot — a perfect place to snap off his wicked wrister or one-timer — and he’s making defensemen regret losing track of him.
A perfect example came late in the first period Monday when DeBrincat slid to the right of Ducks goalie John Gibson and tapped his stick on the ice as Nick Schmaltz circled behind the net. Schmaltz zipped a pass to DeBrincat, who one-timed the shot home for a 2-0 Hawks lead.
DeBrincat went on to knock in a rebound of a Ryan Hartman shot, and he notched the hat trick by tapping in a perfect Patrick Kane pass to complete a 2-on-1 rush.
DeBrincat chalked up his big night to “puck luck,” but there’s nothing lucky about this hot streak by the Hawks’ youngest player. He’s combining high-end speed and hockey IQ and is now one of the team’s biggest scoring threats.
Only five players have scored 10 or more goals from the 2016 draft: Matthews (No. 1 overall), Laine (2nd), Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk (6th), Arizona’s Clayton Keller (7th) and DeBrincat (39th).
As for playing with a chip on his shoulder for how far he fell? DeBrincat said that’s not the case at all.
“No, I was just relieved to go to such a great organization,” he said. “It helped that I was their first pick. It’s always nice to be that and be the top guy in the organization.
“I didn’t really care where I went. I just wanted to go to a good team and hopefully I (could) contribute down the road.”
Two months ago it was unclear where that road would lead. Now, it’s beginning to look like it’s a straight shot to greatness.
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