Farmington Hills, MichiganHeight:
21st among North American Skaters
In 2014, Alex DeBrincat had a choice to make: pursue college or sign as a free agent with the Ontario Hockey League’s Erie Otters.
Though he had verbally committed to the University of Massachusetts, it was a conversation with Otters then–General Manager Sherry Bassin that changed everything.
"He began telling me what it was like to play in Erie and how great it would be to play with (Oilers 2015 first-overall pick) Connor McDavid and (Arizona Coyotes 2015 first-round pick) Dylan Strome," DeBrincat told NHL.com.
The Farmington Hills, MI native saw an opportunity that was hard to say no to and, in the end, discovered an environment that fostered his growth as a player and saw him flourish.
In his first season, the centreman recorded 51 goals and 53 assists for 104 points in 68 games, as well as 16 points (9G, 7A) in 20 post-season games. He had 28 multi-point games and his plus-59 +/- rating was second on the team to McDavid's plus-60.
“I don’t know many teams who aren’t looking for scoring today, and this kid can put the puck in the net,” a scout told The Hockey News. “He has more quickness than flat-out speed, (which is) difficult to contain in tight spaces because of that. Good shot and he unloads it in a hurry.”
DeBrincat knows how to play with talent, having skated alongside the likes of McDavid and Strome with the Otters, and Auston Matthews at the 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship. It’s a skill that may often be overlooked in the NHL, but one that the quick-footed forward said he has truly benefitted from.
“It was pretty cool,” DeBrincat told Oilers radio analyst Bob Stauffer at the NHL Combine. “[McDavid]’s probably the best player I’ve ever played with or seen play. He’s unbelievable. There’s just not too many people that can compare. Dylan’s pretty close, but Connor plays with so much speed and is so good with the puck it’s pretty unbelievable.”
When DeBrincat was awarded OHL Rookie of the Year in 2014-15, he joined McDavid as the only other player in Otters history to win the trophy and became the sixth American-born player to win, following Bryan Berard, David Legwand, Patrick O’Sullivan, Rob Schremp and Patrick Kane.
But don’t be jaded by the wunderkinds that surrounded DeBrincat. When McDavid missed 20 games with a broken right hand in November 2014, DeBrincat helped to carry the team forward, scoring 10 goals and 26 points.
"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."
His 2015-16 season, DeBrincat almost matched his rookie season performance, recording 101 points (51G, 50A), just three points shy of his 2014-15 total. He also recorded 19 points (8G, 11A) in 13 post-season games.
“Without the two teams that we had in Erie, I don’t think I would do nearly as well as I did,” he admitted, attributing much of his success to the teammates he’s had along the way.
“Definitely them, and also the coaching staff, they worked countless hours with me…trying to round out my game and get it better as the season went on.”
DeBrincat may be small, standing just 5-foot-7, but his style of hockey is mighty. In recognizing this, he is aware of the hard work he has ahead of him and isn’t phased by the challenge.
“Being my size I’m not going to make it to the NHL without being really fast,” he said. “I think I want that extra gear and improve my acceleration. Those are two things that I really need to work on and I think that’s what’s going to lead me to the NHL.”
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
- ISS: “Dangerous player offensively every shift out. Finds holes, gets open and steals pucks. Very good shot and willing to shoot. Great PP player with a great one timer shot. Finds seams. Lacks size but can play in traffic.”
- Director of Scouting: “Crafty offensive player with slick passing skills and offensive instincts. Like all good players the puck seems to follow him.”
- Tyler Parchem of Elite Prospects: “DeBrincat is a small player with a dynamic skill set. He is a pure sniper, scoring over 50 goals in two straight years in the OHL. He is very undersized, but can be very nasty to play against and shies away from no one. He had to deal with injuries at the 2016 World Junior Championship, but that did not hamper his production when he returned to the OHL. He skates well and is very effective around the net. He is hard to contain for such a small player, and has great chemistry with anyone he plays with. A decade player in the OHL.”