Alex DeBrincat grew up rooting for the Detroit Red Wings. But he also has his good points.
This past season, he had 127 of them with the Erie Otters, a gaudy haul that earned this highly touted 19-year-old Blackhawks prospect a resounding Red Tilson Trophy selection as outstanding player in the Ontario Hockey League.
He amassed 65 goals and 62 assists with a +60 plus/minus rating in 63 regular-season games, numbers that could pass as typographical errors. Except that it's his pedigree. In 2014-15, his rookie year, DeBrincat garnered 51 goals and 53 assists with Connor McDavid as a teammate and linemate.
When McDavid, a prodigy now starring for the Edmonton Oilers, departed, some very smart people assumed DeBrincat's statistics would suffer a correction. He was so shaken by McDavid's absence that DeBrincat again collected 51 goals in his second winter with the Otters. If you're scoring at home, that's a lot.
Granted, the OHL is a famously fiery neighborhood. But 65 goals is 65 goals. If you shoot 65 in golf, does it have to be at Augusta National to matter?
"The goals are nice and the Tilson Trophy is a huge honor, but that's not my main focus now," said DeBrincat, whose Otters are deeply immersed in the OHL playoffs with the mission of advancing to the Memorial Cup. "That's all we're thinking about now."
We've waited until the seventh paragraph for old news. DeBrincat is 5-foot-7 and 170 pounds, which might explain why the Blackhawks were able to snag him with their first pick -- 39th overall -- in the 2016 National Hockey League Draft. Senior Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman expressed gleeful surprise that DeBrincat was still available, but these things happen.
In 1980, the Blackhawks presumed the Montreal Canadiens would grab a petit dynamo from their backyard. They didn't, and Denis Savard went from Chicago to the Hall of Fame. Patrick Kane, class of 2007, is headed there as well, via a body of work exceeding the size of his body.
"Too small," DeBrincat sighed. "You hear it and read it, but it comes with the territory. People doubt you, but you have to brush it off. Hopefully, they say that before they've seen me play too much. I don't think about it and don't really even use it as motivation, because the style I play is what I've always played."
DeBrincat, a right shot comfortable on either wing, is a certified sniper with a quick release and lethal accuracy. But you don't rack up 167 goals in three seasons by cherry picking from one spot on the rink or the perimeters. Indeed, what impressed Bowman and staff is DeBrincat's penchant for venturing into traffic, where angels fear to tread, angry elbows and other parts of the enemy anatomies notwithstanding.
"One thing Alex is not is timid," praised Mark Kelley, the Blackhawks' Vice President of Amateur Scouting.
DeBrincat was raised in Farmington Hills, Mich. Father David, who is Maltese, and mother Tracey, who is Canadian, met at Michigan State University. They are resolutely pro-education, but since Alex put on skates as a tyke, following his older brother Andrew around, reality set in. This kid had a special gift, and schools tend to stay open even after dreams close.
Alex's never did. He briefly joined the excellent hockey program at Lake Forest Academy, enabling him to catch glimpses of the Blackhawks' rebirth under Kane and Jonathan Toews. DeBrincat lists them among his role models, along with classy former Red Wings Steve Yzerman and Pavel Datsyuk. If Alex were to imagine himself as anyone, though, it might be bulldog Brendan Gallagher of the Montreal Canadiens, not a bad choice at all.
In Erie, Pa., a town about 130 miles straight north of Pittsburgh, DeBrincat and fellow Otter Dylan Strome live with a billet family. Ron and Jen Santos treat the boys royally, cooking meals for them and whatever without requiring that they even take out the garbage. Professional athletes have been known to accept pampering, so this is also worthy training for DeBrincat, if and when the time comes. Most likely, when. Feel free to assume the Blackhawks will take a long look at a man-child with such a scent for a net.
"Where will I be next year?" he mused. "I don't know. We'll see how things work out. It was really exciting for me to be drafted by the Blackhawks, a first-class organization. Growing up outside Detroit, I have an appreciation for Original Six franchises. I have work to do. There are better 200-foot players than me. And I want to get stronger and faster this summer. Add a little muscle, but not to bulk up."
Did we mention that Alex DeBrincat is only 5-foot-7, 170 pounds? But nobody examining beneath that frame has accused him of packing an undersized engine.