Imagine you’re an NHL rookie.
Imagine you score not one, not two, but three hat tricks in your inaugural season. This feat takes you all of 73 professional games, and you become just the second rookie in 25 years to do such a thing.
You look around the dressing room.
Weeks later, when the 2018 Calder Trophy voting is revealed, you learn that nine of your fellow rookies finished with more votes.
A strong freshman class, to be sure, but there’s a lesson buried under all those doffed caps gleefully tossed onto the ice.
“We’d play one game like a playoff team, then the next game we wouldn’t have any jump, just didn’t play well at all,” DeBrincat says. “Consistency is huge.”
We catch up with one of the NHL’s most under-the-radar sophomore studs for a quick chat about the intimidating Coach Q, the damage done by Corey Crawford‘s absence, and what he’s doing to improve upon his 28-goal debut.
SPORTSNET.CA: Until you played there, did you have any idea just how well Blackhawks fans travel?
ALEX DeBRINCAT: It’s incredible. A lot of the [road] games there’s a lot of red sweaters in the stands. It’s really good to see. Even after the year we had — we weren’t that good, and we have a lot to improve upon — they were still at the fan convention this summer. They still show up and support us. They’re incredible. Hopefully we can give them something more this year.
For two summers in a row now, you came up to Canada for a few days to train at the Power Edge Pro camp with stars like former Erie Otters teammate Connor McDavid. What effect do these intense skating and puck-handling drills have on your game?
It makes you think the game different [in terms of] puck placement. It improves your skill-set. It gives me something to take away and go home and train with. And it’s definitely paid off. Last year, the first day was pretty rough for me. I was struggling a good amount. The second and third day, your hips start to open up more, and you realize you can make those turns, make those moves. It definitely helped me in small areas this past year. A lot of the game is small areas, winning each battle.
What do you make of this Jack Hughes kid, who also trained at PEP?
Oh, yeah. He’s pretty incredible to watch. He reminds me a lot of Connor. It’s definitely fun to watch, seeing him buzz through those cones and stuff.
Surely you knew the NHL was going to be faster. What was your approach to entering training camp as a rookie a year ago at this time?
Going into camp I didn’t know whether I’d be up or down, so that was my mindset all year — try not to get sent down and keep my spot on the roster.
You end up playing all 82 games and put up 52 points. What were you most proud of? The three hat tricks?
I’m pretty proud of that. Last year I was pretty streaky, so hopefully I can be more consistent this year, but I’m pretty proud of that. I’m pretty proud of my  goals. Everyone tells me it’s pretty tough to do.
And you did that despite bouncing around with a bunch of different linemates.
It changed up a lot. It’s tough to have constant lines when we’re not winning, so I was with pretty much everyone in the lineup last year. This coming year, I don’t know who I’ll be with.
When explaining the Blackhawks’ struggles last season, the first thing out of our mouths is the injury to Corey Crawford. How big of a blow was that?
He’s obviously a great goalie. I’d say top 10 if not top five in the league. He started the year really good and helped us out. When he went down, it deflated us a little bit. We didn’t know when we were going to get him back and it just kept going like that. We had other good goalies, but we didn’t give them much help either. He’s a huge part of our team. Hopefully he’s back this year.
What were your impressions of coach Joel Quenneville?
I like him a lot. A lot of people are intimidated by him; I’ve heard he’s been hard on young guys. But for me, he really helped me out a lot. He really emphasized the D-zone game and how that important is to winning. That’s something I really worked on this year and it will help in the long run.
So many leaders in Chicago. But was there one guy more than others that kinda took you under his wing?
Sharpie [Patrick Sharp] kinda did that. We talked about hockey a lot. When I wasn’t playing very well, he said, ‘Just go out and play your game. You’re here for a reason.’ He was always the guy who helped pick me up, and when I had questions, he was the guy I went to. He scored a lot of goals in the league, and he’s a good friend to me.
This interview was edited for clarity and length.