Alex DeBrincat is the type of player who typically registers more goals than assists on the scoresheet. He's been an elite goal scorer his entire life and at every level.
But the 2019-20 season was easily the most trying one of his hockey career.
After leading the Blackhawks with 28 goals during his rookie NHL campaign and following that up with 41 last season, DeBrincat's goal total dropped to 18 in Year 3. He'd be the first to tell you that's not good enough, and it certainly weighed on him throughout the season.
"It was different for me," DeBrincat said. "Never really had that problem in previous seasons or most of my life, so it was a learning experience. I think you've got to take time, just because it's not going in doesn’t mean you’re not playing well. A lot of times it’s hard to think like that when things aren't going in for you, but you need to take a step away and assess your game and see how you’re actually playing and keep your confidence up."
DeBrincat was generating chances this season. They just weren't going in at a rate they usually do.
DeBrincat's expected goals during the 2018-19 season was 22.8; he scored 41, putting his goals above expected at 18.2, according to Money Puck. This season, his expected goals was 20.5; he scored 18, putting his goals above expected at minus-2.5.
DeBrincat had a career-low 8.7 shooting percentage after having a 17.2 percentage in his first two seasons. Was puck luck simply not on his side or was there something more he could've done?
"I think a little bit of both," DeBrincat said. "The previous year I had a lot of goals that maybe shouldn’t have gone in. Obviously I can go back and watch the games and see how I did. But over the summer, I’m going to continue to keep working, shoot a lot of pucks, get my shot better and hope the bounces go in next year."
DeBrincat had a lot of time to reflect on his game during the COVID-19 pandemic. He still can't pinpoint exactly why the pucks weren't going in for him this season but admitted the answer could be as easy as simplifying his game.
"I feel like I was putting it where I wanted, maybe goalies are reading me better or maybe I need to tweak something in my shot," DeBrincat said. "When it’s not going in, you have to figure out in your own mind how you can keep it simple and get to the net more. I feel a lot of the time this year I was playing on the perimeter. Maybe if I’m net front, maybe one goes off my shin pad and gives me confidence for the next game."
DeBrincat had a seven-game goal drought to start the postseason but got better as the playoffs went on and finished with two goals. His best performance came in Game 3 against Vegas when he generated 10 shot attempts, nine slot shots on net and a team-high three scoring chances off the rush. He did everything but score.
Because of the lengthy break between the regular season pause and postseason, DeBrincat plans to get back on the ice soon. He wants to hit the ground running next season and contribute in the way he’s used to, and that’s in the goal column.
"You can still do a lot of things without scoring goals and a lot of good things to help your team win," DeBrincat said. "It was a good learning thing for me to go through and hopefully it makes me a better player down the road."