Alex DeBrincat is widely considered to be one of the NHL's top goal scorers, but he's quickly establishing himself as one of the best two-way wingers in the game and it's only a matter of time before the rest of the league realizes it.
Patrick Kane recently called his Blackhawks linemate a "superstar" and it's hard to disagree that DeBrincat is trending in that direction, if he's not there already.
In an exclusive interview with NBC Sports Chicago, DeBrincat opens up about his growth as an all-around player, his reaction to Kane's "superstar" comment, what it would mean to represent Team USA at the Olympics, and much more.
Here is the full transcript from the Q&A, which has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity:
So Alex, walk me through your journey of getting drafted by Chicago, your rookie season, five years in and you're married now, your life is settled in, etc.
Yeah, it's been great. Obviously coming into such a good organization, I was very happy to be drafted here. My first year was getting the opportunity to play and just playing in the NHL was awesome. Obviously with the guys we have in the locker room, even now, you learn so much and I think I've come a long way since then.
On the ice, you led the Blackhawks in goals your rookie year, then you score 41 the year after that. Year 3 it's 18 goals, it was a career-low for you. What did you learn from that stretch, going through that adversity and how you came out the other end and are back to being that 40-plus goal player?
Yeah, you learn a lot. When I wasn't scoring goals, I had to figure out a different way to play and still be effective. I definitely learned to play better defense. If I'm not going to go out there and score too many goals, you've got to do other things to stay in the lineup, so I thought that was a really good year for me actually.
Obviously it's not fun going through that, but looking back on it, it definitely made me a better player. The mental toughness, you learn how to do that too. I never really went through anything like that, so it was tough but come out on the better side of it.
I don't know if many people realize how competitive you are. Where does that drive come from to be better and to bounce back from a season like that?
You want to do well, obviously, and I think growing up with an older brother, you don't win too much, so you always want to keep driving to finally get that win and be better. I think it comes with that.
I want to be the best, I want to be a guy that's relied on in every situation and can play a bunch of minutes a night and help the team win, so it's kind of just my goal and go from there.
Patrick Kane recently called you a superstar in the making, and then he caught himself and said he's a superstar right now. What's your reaction to that?
Yeah, that's awesome. Hearing a guy like that say that, he's obviously had a great career and has seen a lot of players come through, and for him to say that means a lot. But still trying to get better, not done yet obviously. I just want to keep improving.
I'm sure it's nice to hear that from a player like that, but is it nice for you personally where maybe you've been in the shadows throughout your career to finally get that recognition?
Yeah, for sure, but any time someone says something like that ... I mean, it means a lot, but it doesn't really mean much, I think you've got to keep going and keep battling and just keep working to get better and hopefully be one of the best one day.
A lot of people know you as a goal scorer — maybe around the league as well — but I think you're one of the best two-way wingers in the game. How much do you pride yourself on being an all-around player, not just a goal scorer?
Yeah, a lot. I think that was something that really showed up in my third year when I wasn't scoring. I felt like I was doing better on both sides of the puck and obviously last year I thought it took another step as well.
I think just continue going on that, you want to be in all situations and you want the coach to trust you and put you out there, so just keep working on that and get in as many good situations as you can and help the team win. That's the most important thing, is to get some wins and we want to go far in the playoffs, so that's the goal.
Are you seeing that translate on the ice and on the score sheet, your play away from the puck where you're playing more in the offensive zone when you do that?
Yeah, for sure. Anytime you can get pucks back instead of staying in your zone for X amount of time I think it really helps everyone, it helps the team. Playing in the O-zone is fun, you get to reap the benefits but that comes with hard work, whether it's backchecking or just getting the puck in the D-zone, there's a lot of things that can help you out throughout the game.
The chemistry between you and Patrick Kane is fun to watch. How much fun is it to play with him?
Yeah, it's a lot of fun. I think any time you can get him the puck, you're probably going to get it back and back in a better spot, so it's kind of what I learned playing with him. He sees the ice so well and a lot of times playing with guys, you take the first available option, but with him, he can hold onto it and find a better option.
I think there's that little bit of learning curve when you start playing with him for the first time, you've got to know you're not just going to get it back right away, he's going to wait until you're in a better spot. Now we just read off each other and can sense what each other's going to do, but it took some time.
How much does he rub off on you competitively? When you guys are playing Two Puck or that game where you're trying to score from behind the goal line at practice, etc.
Yeah, a lot. He obviously is very competitive too and when we go against each other in practice, it's not always the happiest thing. We battle sometimes, but it's just the way it is. We both want to win and you do whatever it's going to take.
Patrick and Seth Jones were named to Team USA for the Olympics. Is that on the back of your mind as we get closer to that?
Yeah, it's definitely on my mind. Obviously you want to play for your country on the biggest stage possible, that's definitely something I want to do. But I think it's better to keep that in the back of the mind and focus on other things. I don't think they name the team for a bit now, so there's nothing I can do about it now, just play my game and hopefully get named.
You've represented USA at the Worlds, but what would it mean to you to represent them at the Olympics?
It's crazy. Everyone watches that growing up and you think about it and just being able to play on that [stage], it's almost like a dream I feel like. You dream about coming to the NHL and it's still a possibility and when you get here you're like, 'Wow.' And then the Olympics is a whole new step, I think. It only happens once every four years, so not many people get to do that and represent their country like that, so that would be an honor.
Last one, your next opponent is Washington. It's no secret Alex Ovechkin is chasing Wayne Gretzky as the all-time goals leader. As a goal scorer yourself, can you appreciate something like that when you see all the milestones that he's hitting?
Yeah, it's crazy. I feel like every night it's a new milestone. It's just fun to watch. He's got so many goals and when he scores he's so fired up, it's awesome to see someone love to score goals that much and do it on a consistent basis. I feel like he's scoring 50 goals every year, so it's very impressive.
A lot of people probably don't really understand how hard it is to score and do it that much, especially when he's getting older and older. It's very impressive, and I think he's probably got a good chance if he keeps this pace up.
I was going to say, do you think he's going to catch him?
*Laughs* How many years does he have on his deal? Four more years?
Yeah, he signed a five-year contract.
Yeah, yeah. I mean, he scores 50 goals a year and he has yet to really drop from that — obviously last year less games — but I think he has a pretty good chance, yeah.