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Ottawa Senators Top 25 Under 25, #1: Alex DeBrincat

[extremely Mike Patton voice] You come from out of nowhere

Chicago Blackhawks v Ottawa Senators Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

Last year if you had asked the staff around here who would succeed Thomas Chabot as the number one player under 25 from the Ottawa Senators then any one of us would have certainly said Brady Tkachuk or Tim Stützle (maybe with some Josh Norris and Drake Batherson dark horse votes sprinkled in). I still can’t fully wrap my head around the fact that Pierre Dorion acquired a player good enough to completely blow up that prediction (without selling the farm!!!). Colour me incredulous even as I write this today: Alex DeBrincat is the new number one in town. Holy fuck. Ottawa had a very enviable young core of forwards before said draft day trade. Pushing those players down the depth chart seemed unfathomable. And yet, I get the rare privilege of coronating DeBrincat today; let’s break this down.

2022 Honda NHL All-Star Game Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

1: Alex DeBrincat (Reader Rank: 1, Last Year: NR*)

Alex DeBrincat hails from the state we call Michigan (just like Josh Norris!) and in case you haven’t heard, he plays way over his listed height of 5’7” and his weight 165lbs. By now we can all safely agree that general managers erred in letting the diminutive forward slip to the second round of the NHL entry draft (hindsight being 20/20, DeBrincat should have gone top-five in his class). DeBrincat absolutely destroyed his OHL competition during his tenure with the Erie Otters with over 50 goals and 100 points in each of his junior seasons and well over a point-per-game in the OHL playoffs/Memorial Cup.

If I had included DeBrincat in my Awards article last week then besides the obvious scoring accolades I may have nominated him for the Lady Byng as he racked up under 20 PIM in every one of his NHL seasons to date despite his size and the fierce edge he plays with to compensate. To date, an average NHL season looks like 35 goals and 33 assists per 82 games for DeBrincat. How does he do it? Well, the world “cerebral” tends to come up as often as the word “small” in his scouting reports. And just to get it out of the way, The Cat will cost the Senators a few dollars if the organization wants to keep him in town as he’ll make over 9M$ next season (his last year of team control before unrestricted free agency).

Now getting into the more nerd-oriented stats here I want to explicitly state my thesis: Coming over from the Chicago hockey team, DeBrincat has a bit of a reputation in some circles for riding shotgun to a certain winger whose name I will not type. I absolutely intend to debunk that myth by the end of this season. In the spirit of accountability, I will start by acknowledging that DeBrincat did rank second on his old team in counting stats like assists (37) and shots (270) last season. However, DeBrincat led his team in goals at 41 and that should count for something.

Looking specifically at powerplay offence, DeBrincat had a +19.3 Corsi-for/60 relative (that other guy had 20.7 so close enough (and DeBrincat had a relative expected goals-for/60 of +2.2 on the powerplay while that other guy had +2.0)). At five-on-five, DeBrincat again ranked second in Corsi (+6.6 CF/60 relative as opposed to +7.5) but the Cat’s +0.4 xGF/60 relative ranked highest in Chicago at five-on-five. In terms of five-on-five Corsi, DeBrincat had a CF% relative of +4.1 to that other guy’s 4.5 (Chicago got better defence with DeBrincat and better offence with that guy). It stands out to me, however, that in Chicago, DeBrincat handily led the team with a five-on-five xGF% relative of +5.6 while playing more sheltered minutes than his infamous linemate (70% offensive zone starts compared to 88% at five-on-five).

To illustrate my point, please note DeBrincat’s location on this spider WOWY courtesy of our good friend Micah Blake McCurdy (much closer to ‘good’ with DeBrincat!).

Beyond those obvious numbers, how did DeBrincat stack up with his teammates? He led his team with 31 individual expected goals (all situations), had a team-leading 24 drawn penalties (and +16 penalty differential! (this would have trailed only Tim Stützle in Ottawa)). DeBrincat also had a +20 differential in giveaways and takeaways. Suffice to say, DeBrincat’s 41 goals would have led the Sens last season (and most seasons in the past couple of decades). To our captain’s credit, Brady Tkachuk still would have had the team-best numbers in shots and individual expected goals.

And finally in the spirit of keeping the good vibes coming, DeBrincat had arguably his best season yet in 2021-22. His powerplay rates of 5.7 points/60, 12.6 shots/60, and 2 individual expected goals/60 were new personal bests. DeBrincat saw a career high in penalty kill time this past season and led Chicago forwards with a CA/60 relative of -49 and an xGA/60 relative of -2.9 (you want to see negative integers when looking at relative rates on the defensive side of the puck). DeBrincat’s +4.11 CF% relative ranked only behind Tkachuk (assuming we can make apples-to-apples comparisons with relative numbers across teams). DeBrincat’s xGF% relative of +5.6 outranks even Batherson who led Ottawa last season at +5.0 among Sens forwards at five-on-five.

While DeBrincat’s five-on-five rates in points and shots regressed last season, his 0.8 individual expected goals per 60 upholds his career trajectory so hold out hope for another strong season based on peripherals. DeBrincat’s 21 five-on-five goals marked a career best as a total and his all-situation 41 goals matched his established career high while his 78 points set a new personal standard (as did his 270 total shots). DeBrincat also had his second lowest season shooting percentage to date (while those 31 individual expected goals marked a career best) so don’t write off those 41 actual goals as any kind of a fluke. That offensive zone start rate of 77% ranked a little higher than career average for DeBrincat and we’ll have to wait and see how DJ Smith implements his two top lines against the strongest competition.

Did you get all that? The big takeaway is that he’s really, really good. Thank you for bearing with my very long-winded explanation as to why I don’t think DeBrincat will regress in any capacity in the absence of his old Chicago linemates and why, to the contrary, DeBrincat should absolutely thrive playing alongside the likes of Stützle, Tkachuk, and Batherson whether on the powerplay or five-on-five (keep in mind that DeBrincat can play either wing).

Dorion went out and got the best available winger on the market and Ottawa will likely have its best top-six since the early- to mid-2000s. It feels so sacrilicious to have a newcomer up and steal the top spot on our annual list but make no mistake, DeBrincat and the other players who ranked one through five this year are going to absolutely wreck shit in the division this season (and many more to come we hope!).

Stats as always courtesy of naturalstattrick