Alex DeBrincat had probably the most challenging season of his hockey career in 2019-20. He was rewarded with a three-year, $19.2 million contract right before the season began because he's one of the best in the league at finding the back of the net but followed that up by tallying only 18 goals, just one year after potting 41.
This season, DeBrincat has looked like a different player in every facet. His confidence is high, his overall game has rounded out beautifully and the goals are going in for him at a rate he's used to seeing.
DeBrincat got on the board again on Saturday, scoring his second overtime goal in four games as the Blackhawks knocked off the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-2 at the United Center in a much-needed bounce-back win. It was also his team-leading eighth goal of the season despite missing four games while in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol, and he showed terrific hand-eye coordination on the goal.
"I saw a 2-on-2 on two going with [Patrick Kane]," DeBrincat said. "Just gave it to him. Good things happen when he has the puck. He was able to get it through and it bounced up off my stick. I obviously wanted to put it toward the net. It worked out this time, but pretty lucky."
Hey, you earn your bounces and DeBrincat is doing exactly that.
Everyone expected him to rebound offensively, but what DeBrincat has been able to do away from the puck has been extremely noticeable. And he's getting rewarded for it.
"He’s got another level that he’s reached here," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "We all see the offensive production and that’s what gets the headlines ... but I think his two-way game was really good last year, he just didn’t get paid off for it.
"I would say even his skating, his pressure on the puck and his defensive play and work ethic to get pucks back, he's stripping guys on the backcheck and creating extra transition opportunities and zone time. I would say that it was good last year, it’s even another step here. And probably a lot of it is just confidence, feeling good out there, he’s skating so well. Really nice to see, really important guy for our team."
DeBrincat's teammates certainly see it, too, and not just in games.
"He’s been sensational," Kevin Lankinen said. "You see his confidence even in practice when we play Two Puck or just shooting drills. He comes with full speed, he can dribble the puck, he shoots, his release is so quick it’s hard to read. He’s just a pretty complete player. He skates fast, he battles, he's a good shooter, he sees the ice well. He’s just a really good asset for our team to have."
DeBrincat prides himself on scoring goals, no question. And if he's not doing that, he certainly wants to find other ways to produce offensively, which he is — he has eight assists through 12 games.
But, perhaps more importantly, DeBrincat is a player who wants to be relied upon at any moment in the game, not just in offensive situations. And that's where his game is really starting to grow.
"Obviously, I want to be a guy who’s put out in all situations and helping the team win," DeBrincat said. "Last year, stuff just wasn’t going my way. This year I’m getting bounces, obviously like tonight. Maybe that’s not going in most of the time but tonight it did. I think anytime I can be there for the team and try to help us win, it’s a plus for me."