Red Wings Add Much More than Goals with DeBrincat Trade

The Hockey Writers

When he was growing up, Alex DeBrincat dreamed of being a Detroit Red Wing. Growing up in Farmington Hills, about a half hour drive from Detroit, he remembers that championship 2001-02 Red Wings team filled with Hall of Famers. But the peak of his fandom came six years later when a new wave of Red Wings secured the organization’s 11th Stanley Cup.

“[The Red Wings] winning in ’08 was probably the one I remember the most. ’02 I remember a little bit, but ’08 I was really invested,” DeBrincat said. “They were just so successful through my whole childhood, it was so fun to watch and that’s a big reason why I play the game.”

On July 9, DeBrincat received the call every young hockey player in the state of Michigan hopes to receive one day: he was officially a Red Wing. Shortly after, he signed a four-year deal that carries a cap hit of $7.875 million.

This isn’t just some feel good story though. No team dedicates the amount of money and resources the Red Wings gave up (they gave up a roster player, two draft picks and a defensive prospect to acquire him) just because they were a fan as a kid. Just like the team led by Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk – the latter of which was DeBrincat’s favorite player growing up – DeBrincat joins a team tasked with ushering in a new era of success in Detroit.

After adding a player of DeBrincat’s caliber, the Red Wings have taken a huge step forward and may finally be up to that task.

DeBrincat Is a Proven Goal-Scorer

Not since Marián Hossa‘s one season cameo in Detroit back in 2008-09 have the Red Wings had a player eclipse 40 goals in one season. Before the age of 25, DeBrincat already secured two 40-goal seasons. In the abbreviated 2020-21 season, he put up 32 goals in 52 games – a rate that would have put him at 50 goals over a full 82-game season. The lowest goal total of his six-season NHL career thus far was the 27 goals he put up this past season with the Ottawa Senators. To put that into perspective, his 27 goals would have been good enough for second on the Red Wings this past season.

In case you haven’t heard, DeBrincat is pretty good at scoring goals.

Related: Grading Red Wings’ Blockbuster Trade for Alex DeBrincat

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“DeBrincat had a good year in Ottawa, despite it being a down year by his standards,” THW Senators writer Jacob Billington said. “He found himself with plenty of opportunities and despite scoring 27 goals, he could have easily scored 35+ with all of the wide-open nets he missed.”

In order to score at the volume DeBrincat has to this point in his career, he has been a reliable shooter. With 1,296 career shots over 450 regular season games, he averages 2.9 shots per-game; you might even argue that he should shoot the puck more given that unassuming average. He’s a willing triggerman on the power play, and that has helped lead the way to a grand total of 187 goals in his career (63 on the power play). His scoring ability is what the Red Wings are paying him for, but it’s not all he brings to the table.

When the 2022-23 season ended, Red Wings general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman expressed a desire to make his team tougher to play against. The fact that the Red Wings were a bit soft last season was accentuated in back-to-back games against DeBrincat and the Senators in late February. The Red Wings were outmuscled and looked sheepish against a Senators team that was eager to bully them whether the clock was running or not.

Through DeBrincat’s six seasons, he finished with an odd number of penalty minutes in four of them. An odd number of penalty minutes usually indicates that a player has been in a fight given that fights result in a five minute major penalty. He is most effective on the ice and in shooting position, but he is a willing combatant when things get scrappy, and that should blend in well with the identity Yzerman is hoping his team will adopt.

“[Physicality] is maybe not a huge part of my game, but I try not to back down from anyone,” DeBrincat said. “I think being a smaller forward in the league…sometimes people try to bully you around, but that’s something I try to not let get taken too out of hand and I think I can hold my own.

It definitely keeps me engaged in the game, but that’s not my main goal.”

A scorer with some attitude in his game. When’s the last time Red Wings fans had one of those to cheer on?

DeBrincat Could Unlock Dylan Larkin

DeBrincat’s 40-goal seasons are the headliner of his résumé, no doubt about it. Where there seems to be some doubt is just how much credit he deserves for reaching that milestone.

DeBrincat was drafted by and began his NHL career with the Chicago Blackhawks. At just 20 years of age, he quickly found chemistry with winger Patrick Kane, a player known as one of the best playmakers of his generation. Perhaps not so coincidentally, Kane’s career-high assist total (66) came in 2018-19, DeBrincat’s first 40-goal season.

So then the question is: was Kane the biggest reason for DeBrincat’s success?

“Of course Kane helped DeBrincat’s point total, but Kane has that effect on everyone he plays with. Yet, that tells a small part of the story,” THW Blackhawks writer Brooke LoFurno said. “DeBrincat made Kane better too. They both reached career highs playing with each other, so it was a two-way street.”

Alex DeBrincat Ottawa Senators
Alex DeBrincat, pictured with the Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, as LoFurno pointed out, DeBrincat’s natural scoring ability does not mean that he doesn’t benefit from having a gifted playmaker on his line.

“DeBrincat is a goal scorer, so he is going to score no matter what, but I believe his time with Kane did highlight the importance of him playing with a ‘playmaker’,” LoFurno said. “If he has someone that can feed him the puck, he’ll make opponents pay every time. We saw that even when he was paired with Dylan Strome during his time with Chicago too.”

Quite frankly, the Red Wings do not have a playmaker that is at Kane’s level. That being said, they do have a lineup that is filled with quality playmakers that haven’t had a scorer like DeBrincat to feed the puck to. At the top of the list is the Red Wings’ top center and captain, Dylan Larkin.

Larkin, who finished with 79 points in 80 games this past season, matched his career-high with 47 assists last season while being the biggest offensive catalyst on the Red Wings’ roster. He did that last season while mostly playing with David Perron and Dominik Kubalik, the latter of which was sent to Ottawa in the package to acquire DeBrincat. Together, Perron and Kubalik combined for 44 goals.

If all goes well, DeBrincat could match Perron and Kubalik’s combined total – he’s that good at scoring goals.

Every indication is there that the newest Red Wing will at least start this season on the top line with Larkin. The two went golfing together earlier this offseason, and the pair talked about playing together in the future. Furthermore, if you’re trading a first round pick, a solid depth scorer and a promising defense prospect (Donovan Sebrango) to add a scorer, you typically aren’t doing so with the idea of sticking that player in the middle six.

Dylan Larkin Detroit Red Wings
Dylan Larkin, Detroit Red Wings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

After a down season with the Senators, DeBrincat has an opportunity to return to the 30-goal plateau with hope that the 40-goal milestone isn’t too far out of reach as well. He has that opportunity because he’ll likely be playing with Larkin, and Larkin projects to have the best playmaking season of his career because he’ll likely be playing with DeBrincat – just like Kane did when he played with DeBrincat in Chicago.

Are the Red Wings for Real?

While there are still a ton of moving parts and things that won’t be resolved until the preseason begins, the Red Wings’ forward group for next season looks promising on paper:

Klim Kostin Dylan Larkin Alex DeBrincat

Jonatan Berggren JT Compher Lucas Raymond

Michael Rasmussen Andrew Copp David Perron

Robby Fabbri Joe Veleno Daniel Sprong

Red Wings head coach Derek Lalonde looks to have a ton of options available to him in terms of shaping his lineup; the lines listed here are less of a projection and more of a rough draft of what we might see this season. With all of the added faces in free agency and now the addition of DeBrincat, the Red Wings look like they’ll be a tough out on any given night.

A bona fide playoff team? Probably not. But a legitimate threat in the wild card race? It’s not a stretch to suggest it, not anymore.

“I think we’re a better team today with Alex DeBrincat in the lineup,” Yzerman said Monday. “I hope all the changes we made to the roster make us a more competitive team.”

The Red Wings, a team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2016, are not out of the woods yet in regards to their rebuild. But after dealing away valuable future assets to bring in a legitimate goal-scorer who only just entered his athletic prime, things feel a little different. Suddenly, there is optimism that the dark days of 8-2 losses and dealing away fan-favorites for draft picks may soon be over.

In the aftermath of this seismic move by Yzerman and the Red Wings, maybe that’s the biggest takeaway.

“I’m excited to be here, join that and hopefully be part of the solution to get out of that. I’m just really excited to join these guys and I see the potential in this group,” DeBrincat said.

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