Blackhawks' DeBrincat fires his way into noteworthy company with 40-goal sophomore season

Alex DeBrincat became the second-youngest player in Blackhawks history to score 40 goals, giving further proof that small players can be stars in the NHL.
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If you thought Alex DeBrincat wasn't going to be an impact player because his junior linemates were Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome, or because he's just 5-foot-7, you wouldn't have been alone. But through the first two seasons of his career, DeBrincat keeps proving every doubter wrong. And on Thursday, DeBrincat became the eighth player to score 40 goals this season and sits one goal behind Patrick Kane for the lead on the Chicago Blackhawks.

What makes DeBrincat's season most noteworthy, though, isn't just that it's a 40-goal campaign. Rather, it's that the 21-year-old is now in the midst of one of the best seasons by a player his age or younger in franchise history. In fact, when he recorded his 40th Thursday, DeBrincat became the second-youngest player in Hawks history to hit the plateau, trailing Jeremy Roenick, who scored 40 as a 21-year-old in 1991, by only 35 days. Roenick finished with 41 goals that season, and with five games left on the season, DeBrincat is on pace for 43. Roenick did have a bit more NHL experience under his belt, though: he was in his third campaign when he hit the 40-goal mark, while DeBrincat is a sophomore in the NHL.

That, too, sets DeBrincat apart from other youngsters in Blackhawks history. Of the eight players who scored at least 100 points in their first two seasons with the franchise, DeBrincat sits sixth in points with 125, two ahead of Jonathan Toews and four behind Terry Ruskowski and Ed Olczyk. There's no catching Denis Savard, however, whose 194 points in his first two seasons are by far the best of any Blackhawk. Of course, Savard's total came at a time when goaltenders when the average goals-per-game total hovered around eight, but the point is that those ahead of DeBrincat – including Kane and Artemi Panarin – are, or were, exceptional players during their time.

What DeBrincat does hold over the rest, however, is that his 68 goals are the most by any Blackhawk during the first two years of his career. For comparison, Panarin is second on the list with 61 goals from 2015-17, while Toews (58) and Kane (46) sit fourth and sixth respectively. Among all active NHLers, DeBrincat's 40 goals as a sophomore are the seventh-most, and the Blackhawks winger's 68 goals also ranks seventh among current players after their first two seasons, trailing just Patrick Laine (80) among right-wingers.

A lot of DeBrincat's success can be tied to his chemistry with Strome. The dynamic duo has been paired on-ice together for 37 goals at 5-on-5 this season, according to NaturalStatTrick, while rekindling their glory days with the Otters. Strome and DeBrincat took turns leading the OHL in points, with Strome recording 129 in 2014-15 before DeBrincat had 129 two seasons later. Strome is finally starting to live up to expectations after the Arizona Coyotes drafted him third overall in 2015, and a lot of the credit has to be given to DeBrincat, the sniper on his left wing.

Talk to scouts that followed the draft back in 2016, and it's clear DeBrincat was one of the most talented players available, but his diminutive frame was a turn-off to some teams. Clearly, DeBrincat's is further proof size truly doesn't matter in the NHL as much as it used to. DeBrincat is a goal-scorer, and a high-end one at that. Having a top-10 goal-scorer on a line that doesn't involve Toews or Kane says volumes about the depth of Chicago's offense, and it has also shown that DeBrincat doesn't need to skate alongside either to produce in the NHL.

The Blackhawks don't have to worry about extending DeBrincat's contract until 2020, but it's not a stretch to think he will command upwards of $8 million on his new deal. And Chicago, in an effort to create another dynasty, will no doubt pay up to keep a kid who has proven he is capable of scoring 40 goals on the second line for a non-playoff team in just his second NHL season. Until then, the sky continues to be the limit for DeBrincat, and it won't be long until he's in the discussion as one of the best sharpshooting wingers in the world.

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