Before the 2016 draft, the question marks surrounding Alex DeBrincat never had much to do with skill or production. Instead, it was his size.
When the Blackhawks selected him 39th overall, The Cat was let out of the bag.
After a 127-point season with Erie (OHL) in 2016-17, followed by an impressive 2017 preseason, DeBrincat earned a roster spot earlier than many expected.
The Cat starred in his rookie campaign, leading a struggling Blackhawks squad with 28 goals and maybe even more impressively, remaining healthy enough to play in all 82 games. He finished third among all rookies in goals and also third among players drafted in his class, behind only Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine, the top two selections in the 2016 draft.
With DeBrincat reaching the 100-game milestone in his NHL career Monday against the Hurricanes, his production through the century mark stacks up well with some of the best players in recent Blackhawks history.
Through their first 100 NHL games ...
— Patrick Kane: 31 goals, 65 assists, 96 points
— Artemi Panarin: 37 goals, 58 assists, 95 points
— Jeremy Roenick: 35 goals, 50 assists, 85 points
— Jonathan Toews: 33 goals, 50 assists, 83 points
— Eddie Olczyk: 30 goals, 48 assists, 78 points
— Alex DeBrincat (99 games): 36 goals, 31 assists, 67 points
— Eric Daze: 37 goals, 26 assists, 63 points
Start with the faces of the franchise and two of the most highly touted rookies the Blackhawks have seen: Kane and Toews.
Toews posted 24 goals and 30 assists in an injury-shortened, 64-game rookie season. The Captain got off to a slower start in his sophomore campaign, notching nine goals in his next 36 games, taking his total to 83 points in his first 100 games.
Like DeBrincat, Kane played in all 82 games during his rookie campaign. He hit the ground running in 2007 and never looked back, tallying 72 points. In his first 18 contests the following season, Kane added 10 goals and 14 assists, combining for a total of 31 goals, 65 assists and 96 points in his first 100 NHL contests. Not surprisingly, he is at the top of the list.
How about Panarin? The Bread Man was already 24 in his rookie campaign with the Blackhawks in 2016 and found instant chemistry playing opposite Kane. Panarin potted 30 goals in 80 games that year, adding 47 assists. His 77 points in his rookie season were the most of anyone on the list. In the next 20 games in his second season, Panarin added seven goals and 11 assists, good for 95 points in 100 games, just a point shy of Kane’s total.
Going even further back, Roenick and Olczyk also had great production in their first 100 games.
Roenick broke in as a 19-year-old in 1988 but didn’t get to his 100th game until his third season in the NHL. In total, Roenick posted 35 goals and 50 assists in his first 100 games.
Meanwhile, Olczyk was an 18-year-old rookie in 1984 with the Blackhawks. In his first 70 games, Olczyk scored 20 goals added 30 helpers in 70 games. Over his next 30 games, he added 10 goals and 18 assist, combining for 78 points in his first 100 contests.
While the next comparison could not be more different than DeBrincat, the production might be most equivalent through 100 games.
Eric Daze checked in at 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds — nearly a foot taller and 70 pounds heavier than DeBrincat. Much like DeBrincat, he was an elite goal scorer in his rookie season, netting 30 goals, but lacked in the assists department with just 23. Through his first 100 games, Daze tallied 37 goals and 26 assists - good for 63 points.
As it stands, DeBrincat has 36 goals and 31 assists in his first 99 career games. He sits behind only Matthews, Laine, Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk and Arizona’s Clayton Keller in total points from those drafted in 2016. Not bad for a guy passed on 38 times by 25 different teams.
While his first 100 games might not mean much toward his next 100, DeBrincat has proven his ability as a goal-scorer and sets the standard for the next wave of core players. And with Kane and Toews approaching the wrong side of age 30, it couldn’t come at a better time for the Blackhawks.
Even though Jeremy Colliton is now the head coach of the Blackhawks, that doesn't mean he won't be keeping close tabs on how his former players are doing in Rockford. In fact, it's crucial that he does.
The Blackhawks are entering a new era where they're relying more and more on their younger players to help carry the load with the core veterans reaching the back nine of their NHL careers.
With a replenished pipeline, the Blackhawks could start to see some of them on the big club once Colliton figures out what he has in Chicago and which IceHogs could provide a spark at some point.
"Absolutely," Colliton said when asked if it's important to keep up with the IceHogs. "First of all, I care about the team, I care about the players, I care about the people who are down there. So it's only natural for me to keep my fingers on the pulse. But we want to build as much depth as we can within this group and that includes the guys in Rockford. Because there are going to be injuries, and we want competition, that it's not a given you're going to play or not a given you're going to have a certain role and that's healthy for everyone and it's going to push everyone to be better."
Dylan Sikura is someone the Blackhawks are looking for to be a top-nine forward once he does re-join the team. He scored the game-winning goal (on the power play), had an assist and seven shots on goal in Saturday's 4-3 win over the Chicago Wolves. The same goes for Victor Ejdsell, who had two assists to give him nine points in 14 games.
On the back end, Carl Dahlstrom and Gustav Forsling are two players to keep an eye on as they appear to be the most NHL-ready. Lucas Carlsson and Darren Raddysh are building strong cases as well.
But for now, it's only fair that Colliton gives the current Blackhawks group a chance before exploring those options.
"We have to see what they have and see how they're going to adjust," Colliton said. "We're not reinventing the wheel here, but a big thing we're going to talk about is play with joy, play free, be aggressive, push the pace, be skating. And we'll see how the guys react to that and then things will become more clear."