As hard as it can be, let’s step out of the Connor “Hockey Jesus” McDavid orbit for a minute.
Alex DeBrincat, former linemate of last year’s first-overall pick, managed to prove to detractors this season that he certainly wasn’t just some beneficiary of McDavid’s skill.
DeBrincat is an elite player in his own right, and to constantly frame analysis of him as “look what he’s managed to do without McDavid” does him a disservice.
So let’s look at just the player.
At right wing for the Erie Otters this season, DeBrincat achieved his second 100-plus point season in a row, netting 101 points (51 goals, 50 assists) in 60 regular season games. He also scored 19 points (8 goals, 11 assists) in 13 playoff games. But he’s also 5’7” and somewhere around 160 pounds, depending on who you believe. That scares some scouting staffs.
With DeBrincat, it shouldn’t.
With his speed and skill, DeBrincat would flourish in a system like Mike Sullivan’s in Pittsburgh, Jon Cooper’s in Tampa Bay, or Bill Peters’ in Carolina. He’s an elite skater, with top-end acceleration, and is elusive enough to often dodge opponents looking to take him out of the play with a hit.
More than that, though, DeBrincat has the hands and hockey sense that, when combined with that speed, make him dangerous offensively. He creates opportunities for both himself and teammates, but he isn’t just a playmaker. With two straight years of 51 regular season goals, it’s no stretch to call him a sniper.
One of DeBrincat’s biggest assets is his vision. He sees his options on the ice and is able to slow the game down for himself to ensure he’s making the right choice, whether that’s to make a pass to a teammate or take the shot himself. He’s a dynamic and creative player, and an absolute joy to watch in the offensive zone.
His defensive play is nothing to sneeze at, either. While he’ll likely see some trouble in his own zone during his adjustment to the NHL, DeBrincat has the tenacity and the hockey IQ to keep working until he finds the smart play, and his learning curve likely won’t be too steep.
The stereotype surrounding smaller players includes that they’re “soft”— that is, they avoid physical play.
DeBrincat is anything but. He drives the net, gets involved in battles, and has a track record of holding his own against larger players in scrums. He’s bullheaded, never taking a shift off, and seems to almost enjoy playing in situations where the odds are stacked against him.
He’s also been known to let his temper get the better of him. Anyone remember the spearing incident with Travis Konecny at World Juniors?
DeBrincat is undoubtedly a first-round talent. In addition to being ranked 26th by ISS Hockey and 21st among North American skaters by Central Scouting, DeBrincat was ranked 15th by ESPN’s Corey Pronman in his annual Top 100 Prospects piece. In this year’s draft, however, there are more first-round talents than there are first-round draft slots.
A team wouldn’t be making a mistake by taking DeBrincat anywhere from 20th to 30th — or before, if they’re high enough on him — but given how smaller players have fallen in the past, it wouldn’t be surprising for DeBrincat to slip out of the first round entirely. If that does happen, expect him to be snatched up quickly.
Teams picking early in the second round include Toronto and Edmonton, both of whom are familiar with DeBrincat’s body of work, as well as Columbus, no stranger to small, skilled players themselves.
DeBrincat is high-risk, but if developed well, he’ll also be high-reward. Should he drop far, expect to hear him mentioned when analysts are shaking their heads about great players who were passed over by too many teams.