The Cat has his confidence back.
Following a self-described disappointing year in 2019-20, Alex DeBrincat rebounded with perhaps his best all-around season to date. He found the net 32 times in 52 games -- third most in the league behind only Auston Matthews (41) and Connor McDavid (33) -- but also developed into an impact player for the Blackhawks on both sides of the puck.
"He broke out," head coach Jeremy Colliton said. "I thought he had one of the elite two-way seasons in the whole league this year."
"He was fantastic this year," President of Hockey Operations and General Manager Stan Bowman added. "He became a real engine for our team… He was probably one of our more active players at retrieving the puck when we don't have it and pressuring the other team. When he has it, he does good things with it, but he worked really hard to get the puck back and I think made the difference in our team, big time."
The forward scored 18 goals in 70 games during his down 2019-20 season, 10 fewer than his rookie campaign and less than half his total from his breakout sophomore year. His 27 assists remained on par with his first two seasons, but the goals simply weren't following suit. An 8.7% shooting rate was a stark contrast to a career average that is normally twice that. He vowed last offseason to maintain his focus and continue working on his shot, noting his struggles "hopefully make me a better player down the road."
It's fair to say that panned out.
Video: DeBrincat's best of 2020-21
This past year, DeBrincat's shooting percentage finished at a career-best 20.7%, tied for the third highest in the league among players with at least 50 shots taken. His seven game-winning goals and three overtime goals led the team and finished tied for fourth and second in the league, respectively.
DeBrincat was such a prolific scorer that his pace over a full, 82-game season would've been pushing 50 goals. Patrick Kane came close to that number (46) in his Hart Trophy season of 2015-16, but you have to go back to the early '90s to find the club's last 50-goal year (Jeremy Roenick: 1991-92, 1992-93).
On the other side of the puck, though, Chicago's leading goal scorer was creating more because he was winning the puck back more frequently and in more dangerous areas. And by season's end, he was killing penalties on a consistent basis for the first time in his NHL career, too. In a picturesque example of his two-way improvement, he notched his first shorthanded tally on May 4 in Carolina as the season wound down.
"He's at his best when he's skating and he's winning puck battles. He won the puck battle on the shorthanded goal, stripped the guy," Colliton said that night. "To me, that's when he's most effective. He's done that a lot for us. He's been one of the best at putting pressure on the puck and winning pucks back and then that allows us to control the tempo of the game. Obviously his goal scoring, he's found a way to produce at an excellent level for us, but I think he's really become a complete player."
Video: CHI@CAR: DeBrincat forces turnover and rips home SHG
"I thought I did a pretty good job earlier in the season to become more of a complete player, more of a two-way guy that can be relied on in all different situations," DeBrincat said of his play after the season's end. "Can always get better, but I think I made a pretty big step this year and I think a lot of that was what I went through last year, too. Everything happens for a reason and just got to keep working hard and pushing."
Now, as he enters already his fifth NHL season in the fall, the 23-year-old DeBrincat is focused on taking his game to an even higher level.
"I think my shot can never get good enough. That's something I'll be working on a lot. I think I can get faster, more agile. There's so many things I can work on over the summer."
"I think just becoming an even better two-way player (too)," he added. "Sometimes this year, I kind of tailed off on that a bit, but I think if I can consistently play that way, I think it really helps our team win more games. I think that's something I'm going to put pressure on myself to do. Work over the summer to be ready for the long season and be ready to do that for 82 games."