Blackhawks

Cat with the hat: Alex DeBrincat's latest trick fuels high-scoring Blackhawks

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USA TODAY

Cat with the hat: Alex DeBrincat's latest trick fuels high-scoring Blackhawks

Patrick Sharp has been highly complementary of Alex DeBrincat since the 19-year-old started camp with the Blackhawks in September. But on DeBrincat’s biggest night as a pro, the night he celebrated his first NHL hat trick, Sharp nevertheless had to give the kid some grief.

“It was awesome. Only problem is he had that mustache for it,” Sharp deadpanned. “So he’s gonna be on TV a lot with that ugly mustache.”

All Movember-motivated facial hair aside, DeBrincat has developed his game just fine with the Blackhawks. He’s improving his defense with every game. He’s flipped from the left to the right side without missing the beat. And this month DeBrincat has tapped into the offensive potential that was on full display during his Erie Otters days, celebrating that hat trick in the Blackhawks’ 7-3 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night. DeBrincat now has nine of his 10 goals in November.

“Special night for him,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He finds the net, he sees pucks, gets himself available, the puck follows him around, he has a great stick, his anticipation is high end, play recognition, special player. Nice.”

DeBrincat had a huge smile on his face as United Center spectators threw hats onto the ice. After the game he was a little more subdued.

“It was nice. Pucks were bouncing my way, and it’s cool to get that over with,” he said. “I think today the puck luck was there for me and for a lot of the guys. So I thought that was a big reason I had those chances.”

Maybe, but DeBrincat was already a proven goal scorer at the OHL level. It was just a matter of time before the Blackhawks found out if he could do the same in the NHL. So far, so good.

“He’s a great player,” Sharp said. “You could tell that in training camp, whenever he got the puck he just has poise with it and he’s looking to make a play. I said earlier that he was playing like he’s in junior hockey still, and that’s a compliment. Because he’s looking to make those plays, he’s not intimidated at all by the speed or the pace of the game, and you can see the results.”

Patrick Kane recorded three assists, his second the feed that led to DeBrincat’s third goal. Sharp broke out of his slump. So did Ryan Hartman, with two assists. So did Nick Schmaltz. The Blackhawks got off to another strong start and didn’t look back, the goals that were so elusive a few weeks ago now coming in bunches.

“I mean, in those games we were just one play away. Pucks were rolling on us. Sometimes they don’t go in for you, and other nights everything goes in,” Schmaltz said “You have to stick with it, can’t get too high or too low. It’s a long season, so you just have to bring the same mindset every night.”

The Blackhawks’ tests don’t end. They’re just starting a busy week that continues Tuesday night in Nashville. But the confidence is surging. So is the offense. So is DeBrincat.

“He’s a great kid. He’s doing well for us, and he’s playing a big role,” Schmaltz said. “He’s a goal scorer. It’s fun to watch. The guy just finds a way to put the puck in the net and not a lot of guys can do that, especially at this level. Hopefully he keeps that up and he’ll help our team succeed.”

NHL Draft Profile: D Adam Boqvist

NHL Draft Profile: D Adam Boqvist

From June 17-21, Charlie Roumeliotis will profile two prospects per day — 10 total (five forwards, five defensemen) — leading up to the NHL Draft.​

Adam Boqvist

Position: Defenseman
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 168 pounds
Shoots: Right

Scouting report:

"Boqvist is a finesse defenseman who is very skilled, possesses excellent vision and tons of talent. He is fun to watch and full of surprises on the ice. He often plays bigger than his size and skated in his first games with Sweden's Senior National Team in April."

NHL player comparable: Erik Karlsson

Fit for Blackhawks:

The Blackhawks would love to have Karlsson, who is probably being traded out of Ottawa this summer. Every team would love to have him. But that's not realistic for Chicago. So what if they drafted his potential mini me?

Boqvist is electric with the puck and has drawn comparisons to the Swedish defenseman as a best-case scenario.

There are two concerns, though. One is that he may need some time to develop at just 17 years old and his defense a work in progress. The second is that he's sustained head injuries over the course of his young career, which adds a little bit of risk to the equation.

If he can stay healthy and his development isn't rushed, there's major upside here. But are the Blackhawks willing to be patient? We're not so sure.

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?

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USA TODAY

Should the Blackhawks explore bringing back Artemi Panarin?

Here's an interesting development as we approach the NHL Draft: Artemi Panarin has informed the Blue Jackets that he's not ready to consider an extension "at this time" and because of that, Columbus is testing the market for the Russian winger, according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.

Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen responded to the report shortly after in a statement released by the team:

"Artemi is an elite National Hockey League player. Our position has been that we want him to be a Blue Jacket for many years and that has not changed. He has a year left on his contract, so there is plenty of time to work towards that end. Should anything change moving forward, we will address it at that time and any decision we make will be in the best interest of our club.”

Ironically, Panarin was traded to Columbus on the afternoon of last year's draft as part of a blockbuster package that sent Brandon Saad back to Chicago. It shook up the hockey world, and has the potential to do so again.

Panarin is set to become an unrestricted free agent in 2019, but is free to sign an extension with Columbus on July 1. Clearly, that doesn't seem to be in the cards right now and it's why the Blue Jackets have to put out feelers. They can't risk losing him for nothing.

On the flip side, Panarin has every right to test the open market. He has one year left on his contract that carries a $6 million cap hit. He's due for a hefty raise, will be 27 years old next summer — the prime of his hockey career — and will certainly be looking for a long-term deal after accepting a bridge contract with the Blackhawks.

Speaking of whom, should his former team explore bringing him back to Chicago now that he's on the market?

Every general manager should and will do their due diligence and call for an asking price, Stan Bowman included. Those conversations might start with Alex DeBrincat or Nick Schmaltz, and if that's the case, you say thanks but no thanks and move on. 

The Blackhawks have the Nos. 8 and 27 picks in this year's draft as possible ammunition, but the Blue Jackets are ready to take that next step. They were up 2-0 in their first-round series before losing four straight to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. It's unlikely they'd be looking to center a potential deal around draft picks. 

The only way you even consider it from the Blackhawks perspective is if Panarin is guaranteed to sign a long-term extension at a price you're comfortable with, but that's one of the main reasons why they traded him in the first place. 

To cap it all off, trading for Panarin wouldn't even address the Blackhawks' biggest need and that's a Top 4 defenseman. Those don't grow on trees. The Blackhawks will have the cap space to sign a player like James van Riemsdyk to patch up their top 6. You can't say the same for the free-agent blue line group.

So while it may certainly be fun for Blackhawks fans to come up with possible trade scenarios to get Panarin back in an Indianhead sweater, it just doesn't make great sense for a variety of reasons.