Every Thursday, NHL.com will look ahead to the 2016 NHL Draft with an in-depth profile on one of its top prospects.
It may surprise some to learn Erie Otters forward Alex DeBrincat has something in common with Connor McDavid, the No. 1 pick in the 2015 NHL Draft by the Edmonton Oilers.
When DeBrincat was awarded the Ontario Hockey League's rookie of the year in 2014-15, he joined McDavid as the only other player in Otters history to win the trophy.
It's a pretty remarkable feat when you consider DeBrincat, of Farmington Hills, Mich., wasn't even considered among 299 picks in the 2013 OHL draft but later signed with the Otters as a free agent by way of Lake Forest Academy in Chicago in April 2014.
He had 54 goals and 111 points in 50 games at Lake Forest in 2013-14 before arriving in Erie.
Alex DeBrincat, along with Connor McDavid, are the only players in Otters history to be awarded the OHL's rookie of the year. (Photo: Matt Mead/Matt Mead Photography LLC)
"I wasn't really expecting to be drafted into the OHL but I always wanted to play in the league," DeBrincat said. "My parents really wanted me to go to college but I think it all depends on the person."
He had verbally committed to the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and was also selected in the second round (No. 27) of the 2013 United States Hockey League futures draft by the Waterloo Blackhawks.
A conversation he had with Sherry Bassin, who served as Erie's general manager at the time, changed everything.
"He began telling me what it was like to play in Erie and how great it would be to play with Connor McDavid and (Arizona Coyotes 2015 first-round pick) Dylan Strome," DeBrincat said. "I mean, who wouldn't want to play with Connor McDavid? And I knew the place would be packed with him being there, so I thought maybe that would help me as well."
The decision turned out even better than expected. DeBrincat had 51 goals and 104 points in 68 games, finishing 59 points ahead of the next highest rookie. He had 28 multipoint games and his plus-59 rating was second on the team to McDavid's plus-60.
"We knew Connor and Dylan would score their share of goals but we were concerned where our secondary scoring was going to come from and Alex came in and exceeded our expectations," Otters coach Kris Knoblauch said.
McDavid finished second in scoring among first-year players with 66 points (25 goals, 41 assists) when he won OHL rookie of the year in 2012-13 as a 16-year-old.
DeBrincat would be the first to say he benefitted from playing alongside McDavid and Strome last season, but the 5-foot-7, 163-pound right-shot forward is out to prove 2014-15 was no fluke. He was listed as one of only seven A-rated players on NHL Central Scouting's September players to watch list from the OHL.
"There was a stretch of time when Connor wasn't there because of his injury and that was a real litmus test for a lot of guys on that team last season," NHL Central Scouting's David Gregory said. "DeBrincat was one of those guys and he performed unbelievably well in that situation. He's only going to get stronger and more mature with more games under his belt. There's no denying the kid's ability."
When McDavid missed 20 games with a broken right hand, DeBrincat scored 10 goals and 26 points. It appears he hasn't really missed riding shotgun with McDavid this season either.
In 20 games for Erie (17-2-1), the 17-year-old leads the team in goals (27), points (40) and power-play goals (six).
"I like to create energy," DeBrincat said. "I don't mind going into the zone and throwing a few hits. I'm not the biggest guy but I definitely don't try to play small."
DeBrincat, who has four hat tricks and 13 multipoint games this season, said he learned so much from watching McDavid in practice and game situations.
"The biggest thing I took away from watching Connor was playing with speed and making plays at that speed," he said. "Connor was always looking everywhere and he usually found you, even if you were behind him. It was pretty crazy to watch. I'd try it in practice and if it didn't work, I'd try a little harder."
DeBrincat became the sixth American-born player to win OHL rookie of the year following Bryan Berard (Detroit, 1995), David Legwand (Plymouth, 1998), Patrick O'Sullivan (Mississauga, 2002), Rob Schremp (Mississauga, 2003) and Patrick Kane (London, 2007).
"Scoring goals is a big thing and part of my game," he said. "I'm not really a skilled sort of player but more of a hard-working guy."
DeBrincat had 73 penalty minutes as a rookie, further evidence he doesn't shy away from entering the tough areas of the ice. Despite his style of play, DeBrincat has remained in relatively good health.
"In minor hockey I had my share of bumps and bruises, but nothing too serious, luckily enough," he said.
Dan Marr, the director of NHL Central Scouting, believes DeBrincat may one day provide an NHL team what many of the successful smaller players have.
"DeBrincat will be one of the more intriguing prospects scouted this year," Marr said. "He has an obvious and unique skill set which combines well with his tenacity to score. While his size is not an asset, it's not affected him from being able to consistently generate offense for his team. Much like Brian and Stephen Gionta and Johnny Gaudreau, he has the potential to be one of those special players that finds his way to the NHL."
DeBrincat opened the season between Kyle Maksimovich and Taylor Raddysh and that line continues to remain intact even with the return of Strome, selected No. 3 in 2015 by the Arizona Coyotes.