Blackhawks

Big leap from OHL to NHL no big deal to Alex DeBrincat

Big leap from OHL to NHL no big deal to Alex DeBrincat

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.

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

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USA TODAY

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to Blues: What's up with the power play?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks' 5-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night:
 
1. Nick Schmaltz returns but sizzle doesn’t.

You didn’t expect the fireworks of the season opener but you figured Schmaltz, Ryan Hartman and Patrick Kane would connect pretty quickly again. The speed was certainly there. The connections on passes were not. It wasn’t just that second line, though: it was another night on which the Blackhawks’ offense was sluggish. 
 
2. Tripping along.

I joked that tripping is the new slashing. Maybe that’s not the case league-wide but it was for the Blackhawks on Wednesday night. The Blackhawks took five tripping penalties overall, including three in the first period. It was a clear sign that the Blackhawks were trying to play catch-up all night, and they didn’t fare well at it.
 
3. Power play gets something but…

It took until late in the third period (when the Blackhawks’ offense seems to get going lately). The Blackhawks got two late power-play goals, a reminder of what they can do when they battle for the puck and show some spark.

“Our sense of urgency in the puck area, be it 5-on-5 or on the power play, that’s the differential of keeping the puck in the offensive zone and making plays off it is one of our strengths,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We didn’t do that very often and we haven’t won many battles.”
 
4. Starting slow.

Why these are happening is a mystery, and they’ve been most evident in the Blackhawks’ last three games, which have all come against division opponents. Too much relying on Corey Crawford again and not much in terms of shots, be it quality or quantity through the first two periods. The Blackhawks were outshot 17-8 through the first 40 minutes on Wednesday. While they created little they gave up way too much.
 
5. Patrick Sharp OK?

Sharp was injured late on Wednesday night when the Blackhawks-Blues game got chippy in the final five-plus minutes. Quenneville thought Sharp was fine but he wasn’t positive at the time of his postgame press conference.

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

Blackhawks stumble out of the gates against Blues: 'We were brutal'

ST. LOUIS – The Blackhawks’ first tripping came barely a minute into the game. Then came another one. And another. And another. And another. Despite welcoming one of their fastest players back into the lineup, the Blackhawks were overall flat-footed and playing catch-up all night, be it on the ice or on the scoreboard, to the St. Louis Blues.

Nick Schmaltz returned but the effect on the second line and the Blackhawks overall wasn’t immediate. Instead the Blackhawks looked sluggish. Their offensive opportunities were few – a one and done here and there but no sustained zone time or pressure on Blues goaltender Jake Allen – their passing was off and they were on the defensive all night.

And then there were the tripping penalties. The Blackhawks’ penalty kill held up through it, nullifying all five Blues power-play opportunities. But the Blues found other ways to inflict their damage.

“They played well and we were brutal,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “That was a bad start, a bad middle and even [though] it was a little excited at the end it wasn’t very good. That’s as close to brutal as you can get.”

The Blackhawks’ last three games have common themes: they’re outshot for a good part of the game, they’re giving up a good amount of quality shots and then the urgency hits them midway through the third period. For the third consecutive contest the Blackhawks scored two goals late and in two of those three games it wasn’t nearly enough.

“Obviously it wasn’t good enough for two periods. If you take any positives out of this game, it’s the way we played in the third,” Patrick Kane said. “At least we know we can do it. Just gotta do it before our backs are against the wall.”

Why it’s taking the Blackhawks so long to get going, however, is the question. Obviously the Blackhawks’ late third-period pushes show how capable they are of producing when necessary. Said Alex DeBrincat, who assisted on Ryan Hartman’s goal late in regulation, “If we’re would’ve been crashing the net like that all game it may have been a different story.”

But they didn’t. The Blackhawks welcomed back a teammate that’s injected speed into their lineup but the team was once again stumbling out of the gate.

“We’re supposed to be out there, giving our all every minute we’re out there and every shift, go out there and take it a shift at a time and give it all you got every shift,” Hartman said. “We have four lines that can roll so there’s no excuse for not going out there and putting all your energy out there for a shift and getting ready for the next one.”