When Alex DeBrincat first came to Blackhawks training camp he was eyed with some caution. Sure, he had been a great and productive player in the Ontario Hockey League but this was the NHL. This was a big leap. This was a transition that would require DeBrincat to spend some seasoning time in the AHL at the start of the season.
The only Rockford assignment DeBrincat will be taking right now will be for paperwork purposes.
The 19-year-old was strong from the start of training camp and he’s expected to be in the Blackhawks’ starting lineup when they face the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. The Blackhawks assigned DeBrincat to Rockford on Tuesday but that’s just a cap-compliant formality. Coach Joel Quenneville confirmed that the Blackhawks can place Marian Hossa on long-term injured reserve, and they’ll do that on Wednesday. Once that’s done the Blackhawks will free up cap space, allowing them to recall DeBrincat (and Gustav Forsling, who was also assigned on Tuesday).
So DeBrincat has made it. And he’s earned it.
“Getting up here against better players, he just seems to have that knack of knowing where the puck is and he does some great things in tight areas against better players and doesn’t change. Having that ability shows the upside is real there at this level,” Quenneville said following Tuesday’s practice. “He immediately showed he could handle playing against good players and playing with good players.”
DeBrincat has said that he credits one last season in the OHL with the Erie Otters was very beneficial to him. He played a lot of hockey, which was a good prep for the 82-game grind of an NHL season and he worked on his two-way game, improving his defense. DeBrincat knew what the Blackhawks wanted from him, and he’s gotten there.
“I think just in this past year since I’ve been drafted, all the staff has really helped me develop my game and got me to this point to play here. They wanted me here just as bad as I wanted to be here,” he said. “I know I’ve said that before but I really mean it, and they’ve really helped me with my development.”
If Tuesday’s practice was any indication DeBrincat will start Thursday’s game on the third line with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Sharp. But he’s moved around plenty already this preseason. He also played some with Nick Schmaltz and Patrick Kane on the second line and a preseason game with top liners Jonathan Toews and Richard Panik. Good thing DeBrincat is familiar with frequent changes.
“There was a good amount,” DeBrincat said of his Erie days. “Coach [Kris Knoblauch] liked to try new things; if something wasn’t going right, he’d change it. I’m pretty used to the line changes.”
DeBrincat admitted there was a little nervousness the past two weeks. If he didn’t make the team right out of the gate it wasn’t the end of the world but this was nevertheless the goal. He talked often with former Otters teammate Dylan Strome, who made the Arizona Coyotes roster on Tuesday.
“We’re going through the same thing and we talk a lot,” DeBrincat said. “It’s cool to go through it with someone else and take the same kind of road.”
DeBrincat’s parents will be at the United Center on Thursday when he makes his NHL debut. There’ll be ups and downs – every player goes through them regardless of experience – but this was DeBrincat’s goal and he’s made the jump from the OHL to the NHL look easy.