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.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks go for third straight win vs. Panthers

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks go for third straight win vs. Panthers

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Florida Panthers tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Can Patrick Kane build off two-point performance?

For the first time since 2009, Kane had gone four straight games without a point and it was almost five but he recorded two assists in the third period of Sunday's 3-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

It was important for his line overall to get going again, and they did just that Sunday when Artem Anisimov scored the go-ahead goal and Nick Schmaltz added some insurance, with Kane assisting on both of those goals.

The Panthers rank dead last in goals against, so there's an opportunity for Kane and Co. to build some momentum on offense.

2. Power play breakout?

Alright, here's your chance. The Blackhawks have scored only one power-play goal in their last 17 tries, and have slipped to 29th overall in that area but are welcoming a Panthers team that ranks among the bottom 5 in penalty kill percentage.

The Blackhawks just haven't been able to get anything going with the man advantage, whether it's net front presence, quality shots or failed entries. Not scoring isn't necessarily a bad thing, but when it's two minutes of nothing, it can be a momentum killer. Fixing that is Step 1.

3. Another big night vs. Florida for top line?

The last time the Blackhawks played the Panthers, the first line of Jonathan Toews, Brandon Saad and Richard Panik absolutely dominated in a 4-1 win on Nov. 25. Toews and Saad each scored a goal and had multi-point efforts, which at the time were breakouts for a couple of struggling players.

Alex DeBrincat has joined those two on the first line, and that trio has been solid early on. The chemistry has been noticeable, and it should only get stronger the more they play together and figure out each other's tendencies.

Patrick Kane now has the fifth-most points in Blackhawks history

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USA TODAY

Patrick Kane now has the fifth-most points in Blackhawks history

Patrick Kane made Blackhawks history on Sunday night.

With two assists against the Arizona Coyotes, the 29-year-old forward now has the fifth-most points in franchise history with 781, passing Doug Wilson who had 779.

Here's the new Top 5:

1. Stan Mikita — 1,467

2. Bobby Hull — 1,153

3. Denis Savard — 1,096

4. Steve Larmer — 923

5. Patrick Kane — 781

Not bad company, huh?

Kane's two-point game came at a pretty good time. Entering Sunday, he was held off the scoresheet for four straight games, the longest streak of such since the 2009-10 season.

Kane snapped his slump with two points in a minute and 45 seconds.

"He's fun to watch," said Tommy Wingels of Kane. "People in here, people in this city are very, very fortunate to have a world-class player like that in their city."