After tallying 41 goals as a 21-year-old last year, DeBrincat has found the back of the net just 13 times in 55 games this season.
For many young players adjusting to the skill and speed of the NHL, there are often struggles and cold stretches involved in the developing process. There’s a reason why terms like ‘Sophomore slump’ get thrown around the league every season.
But for Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat, who’s now in his third full NHL campaign, the struggles are unexpected after such success in his first two go-rounds. DeBrincat’s 41 goals in 2018-19 were tied for sixth-most in the league, with Tampa Bay’s Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov, Edmonton’s Connor McDavid, and Colorado’s Nathan MacKinnon.
2019-20 has been much different for the 2016 second-round pick (39th overall) so far, as his 13 goals are currently fifth-most on the Blackhawks. DeBrincat also has just four even-strength goals, which is the same amount third-pairing defenseman Olli Maatta has. Not ideal.
One of the main reasons DeBrincat has taken a step back is due to his drop off in shooting percentage. The Farmington Hills, Michigan native shot 15.5 percent en route to 28 goals during his rookie season, and he followed that up with a remarkable (or possibly lucky) 18.6 percent last year. Through 55 games this season, DeBrincat is scoring on a measly 8.3 percent of his shots on goal.
“Last year, I had a lot of bad goals,” DeBrincat admitted. “A lot just snuck in and it was lucky bounces, and this year those bounces just aren’t going in. I don’t think I’d be [at] the same pace as last year if I’d buried all my chances, but it’s a bounce here and there that can get you hot.”
While DeBrincat does lead the Hawks with nine power-play goals this season, his inconsistencies at the left circle have caused the man-advantage to flow fully through Patrick Kane. The powerplay has been a problem for some time now, but Sunday’s contest vs. the Jets might have reached a new low point.
On their first powerplay opportunity of the night, DeBrincat fluttered a pass to Erik Gustafsson at the point, which led to Kyle Connor’s shorthanded goal on a counter-strike.
The Blackhawks’ next powerplay was arguably even worse, as they allowed three odd-man rushes in less than a minute to the Jets’ penalty kill. If not for Corey Crawford’s efforts in net, the Jets would have tallied their second shorthanded goal in less than five minutes of play.
Following Sunday’s crushing 5-2 defeat, the Blackhawks powerplay now ranks 28th in the NHL with a 15.0 percent conversion rate. The only three teams currently lower than the Hawks are the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, and Anaheim Ducks. Not exactly elite company.
DeBrincat’s inability to find the back of the net certainly has played a role in the powerplay’s struggles, but there’s more to it than that. Captain Jonathan Toews has just six powerplay points (only one goal) so far after recording 23 last season, and Gustafsson has been removed from the top unit altogether.
Coach Jeremy Colliton has also given rookies Kirby Dach, Alex Nylander, and Adam Boqvist extensive looks on the powerplay despite little success. All three players have yet to score a power-play goal this season and have combined for just six points.
So, is Alex DeBrincat deserving of a healthy scratch? Possibly. But his struggles aren’t the sole reason for the Blackhawks’ offensive struggles. DeBrincat has been getting quality chances in recent games. He just hasn’t been able to finish them as he did last year.
DeBrincat also has yet to miss a game in his NHL career, and it seems unlikely that his iron-man streak comes to an end with a healthy scratch. Anything can happen though, as Colliton made a bold decision to scratch Dylan Strome for tonight’s contest vs. Edmonton.
For more Blackhawks news and updates, follow the author (@JackBushman2) on Twitter. Make sure to check out the author’s podcast, Talkin’ Hawkey, which can be found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Twitter (@TalkinHawkey).