Alexander DeBrincat is the smallest player at Chicago Blackhawks development camp, but he might have the biggest upside.
The 5-foot-7, 163-pound DeBrincat likely isn't NHL-ready and probably will spend this season with Erie in the Ontario Hockey League, but he isn't ready to concede that just yet.
"You always want to make the team," said DeBrincat, who was taken by the Blackhawks in the second round (No. 39) of the 2016 NHL Draft. "That's kind of my goal, to make it to the NHL as soon as possible. Whether it's this year, the next year or the year after that, that's my goal. And whenever it is, I've just got to keep working hard."
DeBrincat could help his case by making a good impression during his first development camp.
"I'm kind of trying to take it all in, take all the advice from the coaches out there," said DeBrincat, who has exceeded 50 goals and 100 points in his first two seasons with Erie. He's the first OHL player to start his career with back-to-back 50-goal seasons since Tony Tanti did it from 1980-82. "There's a lot of good people to take advice from, and obviously you want to make an impression. So that's kind of what I'm trying to do here."
After trading forwards Andrew Shaw, Teuvo Teravainen and Bryan Bickell in the offseason, the Blackhawks are counting on younger players to make the leap to the NHL and contribute significant minutes as role players.
DeBrincat, 18, will head into his first NHL training camp in September with the hope of becoming one of those contributors. He'll be behind older forward prospects such as Tyler Motte, Nick Schmaltz, Vincent Hinostroza and Tanner Kero, but he could play his way into the mix if his OHL career is any indication.
After signing with Erie as an undrafted free agent, DeBrincat was named Rookie of the Year in the OHL and Canadian Hockey League in 2014-15, finishing with OHL rookie-bests of 51 goals and 104 points. He had the most points by an OHL rookie since Blackhawks forward Patrick Kane had 145 with London in 2006-07.
DeBrincat played the 2014-15 season on a line with Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, who was the first pick of the 2015 draft. Last season, DeBrincat showed he wasn't just riding shotgun with McDavid, when he had 101 points (51 goals, 50 assists) playing left wing on a line with center Dylan Strome, who was selected by the Arizona Coyotes with the third pick in the 2015 draft, and playing center for the first time. NHL Central Scouting had DeBrincat No. 21 on its final ranking of North American skaters for the 2016 draft.
The size concerns regarding DeBrincat could have been what led to him sliding out of the first round, but the Blackhawks are glad he did. They have chosen some key role players at spots lower than where they were expected to be available, among them Shaw, Teravainen and former Blackhawks forward Brandon Saad, Shaw and Teravainen.
DeBrincat's journey has been littered with critics who think he's too small to make it big, but he's prepared to prove height shouldn't be a measurement of his ability.
"It's something you've just got to block out," he said. "A lot of teams just look for the big guys, and something I've always heard is you can't teach height. That's something I've grown up with.
"But [the Blackhawks] take a chance on guys with skill, and that's kind of my game. Obviously I'm not a big guy. I like to play a little bigger than I am, but I'm happy they gave me the opportunity and I'm just trying to make the most of it."