4 Reasons to Believe Alex DeBrincat Will Bounce Back in Detroit

The Hockey Writers

In adding Alex DeBrincat this summer, the Red Wings’ front office has addressed the team’s single greatest need, goal scoring. Only three of their players reached at least 20 goals last year, with just one above 30, and the Red Wings finished with the 9th fewest goals scored in the entire NHL during the 2022-23 season. DeBrincat won’t single-handedly make Detroit an above-average goal scoring team, but he will more than pull his weight.

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

Some Red Wings fans seem to be a bit hesitant about the decision to add DeBrincat, mainly because he is coming off a bit of a down year with the Ottawa Senators where he scored only 27 goals despite being touted as a high-end, 40+ goal guy. My first reaction to that argument would be to point out that those 27 goals would have ranked him second on the Red Wings for goals last year, not bad.

I want to take a look at a few reasons why I think DeBrincat will bounce back in Detroit over the next few seasons, as well as looking at some of the value that he provides outside of simply scoring goals. 

Last Year’s Shooting Percentage Dip

In the 2020-21 season, DeBrincat scored on a sizzling 20.6% of his shots, scoring 32 goals in 52 games (50 goal pace). He followed that up with a shooting percentage of 15.2% in the 2021-22 season, just barely under his career average at the time, scoring 41 goals in 82 games. Last year in Ottawa, he had the second worst shooting percentage of his career, scoring on only 10.3% of his shots.

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There were 80 players who scored 25 or more goals in the NHL last season, and DeBrincat ranked 79th among them in shooting percentage. Even if he had reached his career average of 15.5% (in his five years in Chicago), he would have scored 41 goals, enough to tie him for 13th in goals across the league.

The thing about shooting percentage is that it’s unpredictable in small sample sizes and usually a slump like DeBrincat experienced last year won’t last and his shooting percentage will regress to the mean (aka. Go back up to his average). There’s a very large sample size from his time in Chicago that says he’s roughly a 15% shooter.

If DeBrincat can score just 30 goals next year, then the trade and contract will already look like a success. Obviously he won’t be playing with an elite playmaker like Patrick Kane, but it’s fair to assume that he’s not just a 10% shooter on his own. Hopefully he finds quick chemistry with someone on Detroit’s top line and can get back to filling the nets of his opponents.

Two-Way Improvements

Despite him not reaching the goal scoring heights last year that he previously had, DeBrincat actually had a very good season below the hood. His 59% Corsi For % was a career high as was his 62% expected goals percentage (all advanced stats from NaturalStatTrick). There’s an assumption when a player scores goals and is undersized that they’re not good defensively, but that’s frankly not true in this case.

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

When DeBrincat was on the ice, Ottawa was significantly better off than when he was on the bench. His Corsi For % (a metric that roughly shows how well a player holds possession for their team) was tied for 70th in the NHL among all players who played at least 500 minutes. His expected goals percentage was 35th in the league last year, above players like Sidney Crosby, Brayden Point, and Sebastian Aho. While the luck and finishing wasn’t quite there for him last year, DeBrincat’s two-way impacts were felt and were high-end.

Strange Linemates Situation in Ottawa

If you were an NHL team that gave up the seventh overall pick, a second round pick and a third round pick all to get a high-end sniper, you would probably want to pair him with one of your best playmakers right? Well, clearly someone in the Senators organization disagreed with Shane Pinto and Drake Batherson being DeBrincat’s most frequent linemates at even strength.

Pinto and Batherson are excellent players, but the Senators’ top line of Brady Tkachuk, Claude Giroux, and Tim Stutzle contains at least two of the team’s best playmakers who rarely saw even strength ice time with DeBrincat. A Stutzle-DeBrincat pairing makes a lot of sense to me but clearly didn’t stick last season.

Tim Stützle Ottawa Senators
Tim Stützle, Ottawa Senators, first NHL game Jan. 15, 2021 (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

I do think that DeBrincat will be more successful while playing with linemates who better complement his game. Does Detroit have playmakers who can play that role and make the most of DeBrincat’s finishing ability? Well . . . that may be a question for another day.

Career High in Hits Last Year

DeBrincat is a much more physically engaged player than many people realize and one great example of this is his career high of 109 hits last season. That would’ve been the seventh most on the Red Wings last season and the fourth most among forwards. Obviously he’s at a physical disadvantage being 5-foot-8, but he doesn’t seem to mind. 

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Hits aren’t always the best metric since they aren’t always counted consistently and getting a ton of hits can sometimes mean that the other team has the puck a lot. As I mentioned earlier, DeBrincat’s team has the puck an overwhelming majority of the time so I believe his hits are representative of his increased effort and tenacity off the puck and are a good sign as he continues to deepen his defensive impacts.

Great Value Regardless

Even if DeBrincat is more of a 30-goal scorer for the rest of his career when he’s not paired with an elite playmaker, I think this deal will age quite well for the Red Wings. There are lots of reasons for optimism that he can score a ton of goals over the four years of his contract, and the length of the deal tells me that Steve Yzerman and co. believe that the team will be able to seriously compete in the playoffs for at least one or two of those seasons.

Marco Kasper Detroit Red Wings 2022 Draft
Marco Kasper, Detroit Red Wings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

This trade was long-awaited by Red Wings fans and it didn’t disappoint. Detroit finally has a high-end sniper who will be air-dropped onto their top line and top power play unit and will now be seriously contending for a wild-card spot next season. If a few younger players like Simon Edvinsson and Marco Kasper continue to develop well this season, the team will be in a really great spot to be a competitive playoff team in the 2024-25 season.

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