OHL coach believes Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat is just about ready for NHL

OHL coach believes Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat is just about ready for NHL

Alex DeBrincat’s Ontario Hockey League career appears to be over. He and the Erie Otters advanced to the Memorial Cup championship before falling to the Windsor Spitfires. There isn’t much DeBrincat didn’t do with the Otters, be it team titles (they claimed the OHL crown this season) to individual awards (OHL and Canadian Hockey League player of the year).

So now the big question: how will DeBrincat, the Blackhawks’ second-round pick in the 2016 NHL draft, fare at the next level? Plenty are curious to see what he can do, and that includes his coach for the past three seasons.

“I think Alex is really close,” Otters coach Kris Knoblauch said in a phone interview on Thursday night. “It’s been a pleasure coaching Alex, seeing him come in as a young player but not too often do young players have an immediate impact. A lot has to do with his skill. Obviously he was fortunate to play with skilled players like (Connor) McDavid but his game has come a long way.”

DeBrincat’s offensive talents are pretty obvious. After recording back-to-back 51-goal seasons with the Otters, DeBrincat tallied 65 goals and 62 assists this past season. He and the Otters claimed the OHL championship before advancing to the Memorial Cup for the first time since 2002. He can move around the lineup — DeBrincat started the Otters’ season at center, played a few games at right wing but was mainly at left. As for defense, DeBrincat said in early May that improving that was a focal point for him this season. Knoblauch said DeBrincat made strides there.

[RELATED: Connor McDavid believes Blackhawks prospect Alex DeBrincat will succeed in NHL]

“The biggest part of his defense is the ability of stealing pucks, pressuring the defensemen, forcing them to make bad decisions,” he said. “Just being able to have the stick in the right lane an intercept passes. He got better at those little subtle skills.”

The transition to professional hockey can always be tricky. Players are bigger, faster, stronger, better. We could go on and on about DeBrincat’s size (5-foot-7, 165 pounds) but that is what it is. He wants to get stronger and will have to be, Knoblauch said, given the battles he’ll be facing in the pros.

“I think it’s just playing against the big, strong guys. It’s not that he’s afraid; he’s very good at battles. But just playing against the opposition, against five strong, fast players and just finding out how much time he has, where the room is,” Knoblauch said. “One-on-one battles in our league, there are strong guys and he does fairly well. But when you have a unit of guys, it makes the game a little more difficult.”

DeBrincat accomplished plenty in the OHL. Last month, he wasn’t sure what his immediate future held regarding the Blackhawks — at that point, he hadn’t talked with Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman about what came next. There’s a great anticipation for what DeBrincat can do at the next level. Knoblauch said the 19-year-old’s physical abilities, as well as his mental toughness, have served him well to this point. They’ll come in handy at the next level, too, for which DeBrincat is just about ready.

“I’m sure many people are telling him he won’t be able to play in the NHL or questioning if he ever will. That’ll be just more motivation for Alex,” Knoblauch said. “He feeds off that. When people tell him he can’t do something, he loves to show them they’re wrong.”

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Five takeaways from Blackhawks' 2-1 win over Penguins: Power play becoming a strength?

Here are five takeaways from the Blackhawks’ 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night:
1. That's how you start a game.

The Blackhawks haven't had the best of starts over the last couple weeks or so — aside from their recent four-goal first period against New Jersey. But they flew out of the gates in Pittsburgh.

Chicago recorded 27 shot attempts (11 on goal) in the opening frame compared to Pittsburgh's 13 attempts (nine on goal), and led in the even-strength scoring chances department 11-2.

Two of those chances were breakaways from Nick Schmaltz and Jonathan Toews, but both were denied by Matt Murray. The Blackhawks cashed in on one of two power play opportunities, however, and took a 1-0 lead into the second.

2. Power play strikes again.

Speaking of power plays, the Blackhawks came up empty on their first one of the game, but they were handed another one 44 seconds later at the midway mark of the first and capitalized when Gustav Forsling slipped one five-hole past Murray. 

It's the third consecutive game the Blackhawks have scored on the man advantage, something they hadn't done since Oct. 7-12 when they scored in four straight. It's also the second consecutive game the power play unit netted the game winner.

The Blackhawks are 5-for-13 (38.5 percent) on the power play in their last three games after going 5-for-53 (9.4 percent) in their previous 12. 

3. Should Blackhawks have pushed back immediately following Corey Crawford injury?

A scary moment occurred in the second period when Evgeni Malkin swiped Crawford in the mask while racing for a loose puck, forcing the Blackhawks netminder to exit before returning a few minutes later.

Malkin was given a two-minute minor penalty for goaltender interference, but should the Blackhawks have stood up for Crawford at the expense of getting tagged with a penalty themselves?

No question a power play opportunity with a chance to make it a two-goal game at that stage of the game — and against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions who hadn't lost in regulation at home this season going into the matchup —  is important, but the Blackhawks' lack of retaliation was a bit surpising. 

It wasn't a dirty play by Malkin by any means, but there's a principle involved when your goaltender gets hit like that. Those are the kinds of penalties you shouldn't mind taking, and at the very worst it would've been 4-on-4 hockey with one of Pittsburgh's best forwards in the box.

4. Artem Anisimov stays hot.

The goals keep coming for No. 15.

After the Penguins tied it up at 1-1 in the third period with a shorthanded goal, Anisimov scored 21 seconds later on the power play to put the Blackhawks back in front 2-1.

Anisimov now has nine goals in his last 10 games after scoring just one goal in his first 10 to start the season. He also has four game-winning goals on the season, all of which have come this month. Brandon Saad leads the NHL with five.

5. Alex DeBrincat extends point streak.

Lost in the shuffle was the Blackhawks' top rookie getting on the scoresheet once again.

With an assist on Forsling's power play goal in the first period, DeBrincat extended his point streak to four games. He has four goals and two assists in that span, and is averaging a point per game over his last nine (six goals and three assists).

DeBrincat also moved into a three-way tie with Richard Panik and Toews for second on the team with 13 points.

It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic


It's official: Blackhawks-Bruins to play at Notre Dame Stadium in 2019 Winter Classic

It’s official: The Blackhawks are headed back outdoors.

The NHL announced that the 2019 Winter Classic will be held at Notre Dame Stadium, featuring the Blackhawks and Boston Bruins on Jan. 1.

"The Blackhawks and Bruins, two of our most historic franchises, will be meeting outdoors for the first time at the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "Notre Dame Stadium, with its capacity approaching 80,000, will provide an ideal setting for this ground-breaking event and will host the largest live audience ever to witness a game by either of these teams."

"The Chicago Blackhawks are honored to be participating in this marquee event at an iconic venue like Notre Dame Stadium," Blackhawks President & CEO John McDonough said in a statement. "The University of Notre Dame has strong alumni roots in both Chicago and Boston, and, with an established rivalry between the Blackhawks and Bruins, fans will be treated to an exciting game in a unique atmosphere. We appreciate the invitation to the game and look forward to what will be a great day for both franchises and the National Hockey League."

It's the sixth time the Blackhawks will be playing outdoors, and their league-leading fourth Winter Classic. The Blackhawks are 1-4-0 in outdoor games, and are winless in three Winter Classic games.

Chicago's only outdoor win came against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2014 Stadium Series Classic, a 5-1 victory at Soldier Field.