Don't expect first-game jitters from Blackhawks rookie Alex DeBrincat

Don't expect first-game jitters from Blackhawks rookie Alex DeBrincat

That first NHL game. Some players get just a few minutes’ worth of ice time in it. Some score their first goal. But no matter how that first game goes, all players seemed to have the same feeling entering it: nervousness.

“It didn’t kick in until going out there for warmups. Skating around and that 15-20 minutes between warmups, that was pretty nerve-wracking,” said Ryan Hartman, who made his debut against the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 13, 2014. “It’s just really wanting to get out there and get the nerves out was my focus. Just go out there and do something to try and make it seem like it’s hockey again.”

So will that be the same for Alex DeBrincat, one of two Blackhawks (along with defenseman Jan Rutta) who will make his NHL debut tonight? Maybe. But at least two members of the Blackhawks think the 19-year-old will handle his first NHL game as effortlessly as he handled everything this preseason.

Many eyes will be on DeBrincat when he and the Blackhawks face the Pittsburgh Penguins tonight. After starting camp with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane, DeBrincat is expected to start at third-line right wing (with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Sharp) tonight. Sharp, who made his NHL debut with the Philadelphia Flyers at age 20, doesn’t see DeBrincat suffering from nerves too much.

“It looks like he’s playing junior hockey out there, and that’s a compliment,” Sharp said. “He’s confident with the puck, not deferring to any of his teammates or line mates just because they’re older or more experienced. He’s making the right plays. We saw it all through camp. There’s a bit of a jump, it’s Game 1, but I don’t anticipate any problems with Alex.”

Be it rookies or young players, a few current/former Blackhawks have gotten caught up in deferring to veteran line mates. Teuvo Teravainen showed hesitation when first aligned with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa two seasons ago. Hartman admitted it took him a few games to stop automatically doing the same thing. So far DeBrincat hasn’t shown much of that hesitation.

“Watching him the preseason games he looks pretty comfortable out there. He wants the puck and does a lot of good things when he gets it,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “It’s a great beginning for him and our organization. We’re looking forward to seeing how he handles it and we’re thinking he’ll be fine.”

If there are any nerves, players who have been there, done that before had advice.

“Just go out there and do something to try and make it seem like it’s hockey again. Just make plays,” Hartman said. “I know from experience, being a young guy, being your first time playing, you’re just trying not to make mistakes, trying not to mess up plays and trying to be responsible. But sometimes that hinders your skill level and some of the aspects of your game. Just go out there and play to your strengths and take it like it’s another hockey game.”

Life was a lot different last time the Blackhawks missed the playoffs


Life was a lot different last time the Blackhawks missed the playoffs

For the first time in a decade, the Blackhawks officially will not be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With a 5-1 loss to the Colorado Avalanche Tuesday night at the United Center, the Blackhawks will be sitting at home mid-April instead of looking to add to their trophy case.

Exactly 366 days before, the Blackhawks actually became the first NHL team to clinch a playoff berth, also the result of a game against the Avs:

The last time the Blackhawks missed the playoffs, Denis Savard was the coach and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were just 19 years old in the midst of their rookie seasons.

The next year, Joel Quenneville took over as coach after four games and led the Blackhawks all the way to the Conference Finals.

Of course, the following year (2009-10 season) brought the first of three Stanley Cups.

For perspective on how incredible this stretch has been for the Blackhawks, here's how the other professional Chicago sports teams spent 2008:

—The Bears finished 9-7 in Matt Forte's rookie year (he's since retired) with Kyle Orton as the starting quarterback and Lovie Smith as head coach.

—The Cubs led the National League in runs scored en route to a 97-win regular season...before falling flat against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS. Lou Piniella was still the manager and Theo Epstein was still three years away from coming to Chicago.

—The Bulls found some incredible luck, pulling the No. 1 overall pick and selecting Chicago native Derrick Rose. He helped the Bulls to a 41-41 season as a rookie under coach Vinny Del Negro.

—The White Sox lost to Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALDS after winning the AL Central under manager Ozzie Guillen. Carlos Quentin enjoyed a breakout season (36 HR, 100 RBI) while Gavin Floyd won 17 games. 

The Blackhawks still have eight games left before the 2017-18 season ends April 7.

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

Alex DeBrincat records third career hat trick, but Blackhawks lose to Blues in overtime

For Alex DeBrincat, it was probably nice to hear Chelsea Dagger again.

But how about three times?

The 20-year-old rookie snapped out of a 13-game scoring drought in a big way on Sunday night, recording his third hat trick of the season. DeBrincat did all he could to help give the Blackhawks two points, but they only came away with one in a 5-4 overtime loss to the St. Louis Blues.

DeBrincat is now the first rookie in franchise history with three hat tricks in the same season, passing Steve Larmer. His last two hat tricks came against the Anaheim Ducks on Nov. 27, 2017 and Detroit Red Wings on Jan. 25.

"It's pretty cool," DeBrincat said of his third hat trick, "but I wouldn't be able to do that without the guys we have in this locker room and the linemates I've had. Most credit to them."

Entering Sunday, his last goal was on Feb. 17 against the Washington Capitals.

"Obviously it's frustrating when you go through a slump that like that but what I've learned is to stay positive and there's other things you can help your team win with," DeBrincat said. "Just kind of focus on those things."

He netted goals No. 23, 24 and 25 on the season, tying Patrick Kane for the team lead. He is also tied for second among goals scored by a rookie this season.

DeBrincat opened the scoring with nice wrist shot on the power play to give the Blackhawks a 1-0 lead midway through the first. With less than a minute to go in the period, he tapped one home in front of the net to make it 2-0.

In the third period with the game tied at 3-3, DeBrincat put his team in front 4-3 with 3:13 left in regulation. 

“We were talking about [DeBrincat] today, it had been a while since he had scored," coach Joel Quenneville said. "But whether he scores or not, he does a lot of good things in the game, and he’s very aware of his positioning, and doing the right things, finding pucks, getting in shooting lanes, or denying passing lanes. So he’s effective in a lot of ways, but nice to see him score a nice power-play goal today.”

But Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo even things up again after a shot from the point found its way past J-F Berube with 1:22 left. Patrik Berglund would net the game-winner in overtime to hand the Blackhawks a loss.

"I feel like we’ve played well and we just came up a little bit short," DeBrincat said. "I feel like that’s been the theme of this whole season.”