Rewind back to training camp in 2017-18.
Alex DeBrincat went into it as a highly-touted prospect after putting up video game numbers in the OHL. But the Blackhawks didn't know exactly how his game would translate to the NHL, as a 5-foot-7 winger. Heck, they weren't even sure he would even make the team right away.
Not only did he make the team out of camp, DeBrincat went on to finish the season as Chicago's leading scorer with 28 goals. But it was going to be tough to top that in his sophomore campaign, right?
DeBrincat has 21 goals through 46 games this season, and is on pace to finish with 37. For comparison's sake, only 12 players hit the 37-goal mark last season.
"I think I've played a little more consistent this year," DeBrincat said. "If anything, last year was pretty streaky and it's just tougher to come in and do that, so this year I feel more comfortable, more confident in my game at this level. There's a lot of things that go into it, just know what works, know what doesn't, consistency is definitely a big thing. When you can get that you're not having those highs and lows and emotions and stuff like that, so I think that's a big thing too."
The numbers back that up. Last season, DeBrincat went through goal droughts of 13 games, eight and seven (twice). This season, his longest is seven games. His next longest? Four.
DeBrincat has scored two or more goals just twice this season, which means he's producing more on a nightly basis rather than getting hot for one night. And that's crucial to the Blackhawks' success.
"The goal scoring is there, but I think his puck handling, his ability to move through traffic and the offensive zone and the neutral zone, he’s doing a really good job just moving his feet out there and having his head up with the puck, so he’s making a lot of plays," Jonathan Toews said. "That’s the biggest improvement I’ve seen. Aside from that he’s, as usual, doing a good job of finding the right spots to get open for shots. He’s been a weapon for us on the power play. Definitely a big part of our offense.
"He’s really committed to playing the game, to being a good player. I think with a lot of guys that come out after their first season and they have a good season, it’s easy for them to expect the same the next year and maybe their work ethic falls to the side or whatever it may be. But I don’t think you’ve seen any of that with Alex. He’s definitely a mature kid and his priorities and his focus are all in the right place."
DeBrincat has scored in 10 of his last 15 games, five of which have come on the power play. He's producing both at even strength, and a big reason for that is his approach going into games.
"The experience has really helped," DeBrincat said. "You've played against all these guys before, you know what they're about. It's just easier to go into the game. You're not thinking about playing against [Sidney] Crosby any more, you're thinking about playing the Pittsburgh Penguins and I think it's just a different thing to have gone through it rather than just coming in and trying to come in the first year and not really know what to expect."
When you're a rookie, your main goal is trying to crack the lineup every night and stay there. DeBrincat admitted that was his mindset, too.
Going into this season, DeBrincat knew he belonged in the NHL because he had proved it in his first year. Now it was about making an impact and proving you can be a top guy.
"I didn’t have a specific number, but I wanted to improve on my numbers from last year," DeBrincat said. "I definitely wanted to be more consistent going into the year. That was a big thing for me. Just improve on the numbers was my stance on that. I know it’d be pretty tough to beat the season I had last year, but I’m just going about it and trying to keep producing.”
Thirteen of the White Sox top American born prospects are in the Dominican Republic this week for a cultural exchange trip organized by the White Sox, giving players like Dylan Cease, Nick Madrigal, Zack Collins and Dane Dunning a first-hand experience to learn about the country where many of their Latin teammates like Eloy Jimenez call home. Chuck Garfien speaks with Ryan McGuffey who is covering the trip for NBC Sports Chicago. They talk about the White Sox training academy in the Dominican Republic (3:50), what the players are learning and how they're bonding on the trip (6:30), the crazy atmosphere going to a Dominican Winter League game (11:10), going with Reynaldo Lopez to the home where he grew up (14:40), personal stories from the trip (23:15) and more.
Listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:
A former Blackhawks Stanley Cup champion has decided to hang up the skates.
Brandon Bollig officially announced his retirement in an Instagram post after five seasons in the NHL, three of which came in Chicago.
"Thank you to the game of Ice Hockey for the wonderful experience, countless memories and valuable lessons," Bollig wrote. "You’ve made me the person I am today and I’ll be forever grateful. I have officially retired."
Bollig signed with the Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent in 2010, but didn't make his team debut until the 2011-12 campaign. In three seasons in Chicago, he accumulated 14 points (seven goals, seven assists) in 125 games and 201 penalty minutes. He also appeared in 24 playoff contests, where he recorded a goal and an assist, and was a part of the 2013 championship-winning team.
Bollig was traded for a third-round pick in the summer of 2014 to the Calgary Flames, where he spent his final two seasons in the league. He signed a one-year, two-way contract with the San Jose Sharks for the 2017-18 season, but never received a call-up and was later traded to the Nashville Predators organization.
Bollig was known for being an agitator and great teammate, sticking up for them on the ice whenever the chance presented itself. But he was also known for being a jokester.
So let's never forget the time he tried to imitate Patrick Kane's viral stickhandling video and send him off into the sunset by reliving it: