Flames Darkhorse Targets 2016: Alex DeBrincat

Every year, players projected to be taken in the first round of the NHL draft fall. This is a nice little benefit to being one of the worst teams in the league: not only do you get a high pick in the first round, but you kind of get a second first round pick, just by virtue of picking twice in, say, the top 35.

Alex DeBrincat isn’t going to be a top six pick. We’re not here to talk about the possibility of the Flames taking him with their first pick of this draft. He is projected to be taken some time late in the first round, and by all accounts, he – with his back-to-back 51 goal and 100+ point seasons in the OHL – absolutely should be a first rounder.

But he’s also 5’7 and 160 lbs. And when it comes to hockey, big guys have to prove they can’t play – smaller guys have to prove they can.

Scouting reports

Tyler Parchem, 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.

Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst:

The Michigan native has done a pretty good job silencing critics who at first said he was too small for both the U.S. National Team Development Program (he was cut from the U17 squad) and the OHL (was passed over in two OHL Priority Selections). Today, DeBrincat is the Canadian Hockey League’s most prolific goal scorer, and there is nothing anyone can point towards to successfully argue that. Blessed with the softest yet quickest set of hands of any 2016 draft eligible, he continues to find ways to make up for the difference in size by identifying the correct time to shift gears and elude coverage. His release is devastatingly rapid, and can even wire off a shot if the pass is behind him or in his skates. DeBrincat may be small by hockey standards, but he’s a tenacious battler who will get into those tough areas around the cage, as well as throw a hit without deviating from his primary objective of scoring goals. He thinks the game at a very high level, and is the last guy you would catch taking a shift off.

Brock Otten, OHL Prospects:

This is something I mentioned as a strength; the fact that he does the majority of his work near the crease. At the OHL level, he’s able to out smart and out hustle defenders. At the NHL level, there are 6’4 defenders who can skate as well as he does. Will he be able to have that same sort of success? He might be forced to adapt his game a little bit (say the way a guy like Jeff Skinner has). But, I do most definitely like him as a player and I do believe strongly in his offensive potential at the next level.

Ryan Kennedy, The Hockey News:

At some point, you have to stop believing that DeBrincat has “lucked out” with his linemates and accept that there’s a reason coaches always stick him with top guys. The 5-foot-7 sniper has played with Connor McDavid, Dylan Strome and Auston Matthews and it’s because he can find space, wire the puck and thrive with elite players – not everyone can.

The numbers

DeBrincat has now played two full seasons with the Erie Otters in the OHL, and he’s thrived. As a rookie, he scored 51 goals and 53 assists for 104 points over 68 games: a 1.5 point per game pace that saw him not only be named the 2014-15 CHL season’s top rookie scorer, but also the top rookie player, period. He was sixth in overall OHL scoring.

No steps were taken back in 2015-16, either, as he once again scored 51 goals, and added 50 assists to his name for 101 points over 60 games: going up to a 1.7 point per game pace. He was still seventh in overall OHL scoring, even with the additional games missed.

But wait – let’s recall Kennedy’s scouting report. As a rookie, DeBrincat was third in Otters scoring, behind Dylan Strome and Connor McDavid; as a sophomore, he was second, again behind Strome as McDavid graduated. And while scouts say DeBrincat isn’t simply feeding off his linemates, it’s still a legitimate concern. So, what do the numbers say?

Remember even strength primary points? They help eliminate noise in a prospect’s scoring at the junior level. If DeBrincat is truly a passenger, then chances are he’s going to be picking up his fair share of secondary assists and powerplay points to pad those lofty totals he’s put up.

Except that would appear to not be the case. Via Prospect Stats, of DeBrincat’s 101 points this past season, 53 of them – just over half – were ESPP (.883 per game). He tied with Travis Konecny for fourth overall in the OHL, and had the most ESPP of any draft-eligible player not just in the OHL, but in the entire CHL (he did tie with Pierre-Luc Dubois in terms of raw ESPP, but per game, he was a little better).

He also had the highest ESPP of any player on the Otters, beating out Strome by two points. Strome, however, did play four fewer games than DeBrincat; his ESPP per game was third in the OHL at .911.

So the numbers confirm what the scouts are saying: DeBrincat isn’t the beneficiary of talented linemates. He’s talented himself, and capable of carrying his own weight when it comes to upholding his lofty point totals. If he was five inches taller, we wouldn’t be talking about him as a darkhorse at all.

Fit with the Flames

Yeah, okay, so DeBrincat is little. He’s listed as 5’7 and 160 lbs.; Johnny Gaudreau was listed as 5’6 and 137 lbs. when he was first drafted. And with Andrew Mangiapane en route to his first professional season, really, just how many small players can the Flames draft, even if they’re high scorers?

DeBrincat doesn’t fill the need for size – although considering his truculence, is that as great a concern? If he’s fearless and even relishes in physical battles, is his size that great a factor? This is yet another smaller kid who’s had to prove time and time again he can not just play, but thrive, at higher levels. Sure, he’s a risk to make the NHL – every player is – but it’s hard not to believe in someone like DeBrincat.

One of Jay Feaster’s better quotes was something along the lines of how he got no calls of interest on the big Greg Nemisz, but people wanted to talk to him about the little and offensively talented Gaudreau. If too many small players becomes an issue for the Flames, then they can always trade from that position of strength. But is there such a problem as too many high-scoring players?

Oh, and by the way: he plays right wing. High-scoring wingers are exactly what the Flames need, so yeah, there’s a fit for him.


If DeBrincat somehow drops to 35th overall you draft him. Plain and simple. This isn’t even a question. He’s one of the top scoring talents in the entire CHL, size and linemates be damned.

That should see him be taken before the Flames’ second pick, easily – but just in case.

Previous draft target articles: Alexander Nylander | Pierre-Luc Dubois | Matthew Tkachuk | Jakob Chychrun | Olli Juolevi | Clayton Keller

  • FeyWest

    How evil would a line featuring essentially two Gaudreaus be with a triggerman like Mony. Or two line’s with a Gaudreau and a Monahan/Bennett. I really want DeBrincat… please lucky 35!

    • CofRed4Life

      I don’t know if our third rounder would get us that high up, but if he’s still available in the 20s, I sure hope BT is working the phones trying to use other draft picks to trade up to grab him. Sounds like a steal.

  • Parallex

    I dunno. I’m no opponent of drafting small players but DeBrincat strikes me as more Rocco Grimaldi then Johnny Gaudreau.

    I guess I’d take him if he’s there at #35. For the very undersized players the mid-point between Gaudreau and Bust is basically Paul Byron and if you were to ask me if I’d be happy getting a Paul Byron at 35 the answer would be yes. I don’t think I’d trade up for him thou.

    • FeyWest

      This is very true and more likely the case but one can dream haha. I would not trade up to draft him but I don’t think it would be a terrible idea to draft him at 35 if he’s there, or at least hope for him falling like Kylington and get him at like 60. If I’m trading up there’s other players I’d be looking at like Julien Gautier.

    • Byron Bader

      Debrincat is far superior to Grimaldi and Byron. His junior numbers are in the “this guy is definitely making it and is going to be a at least an average scorer”. Grimaldi and Byron didn’t put up any groundbreaking numbers in junior. OK numbers (and not until they were 20 or so) but numbers consistent with players that make the nhl but as 3rd or 4th liners. Even Gaudreau had an nhle about 20 back of Debrincat in his draft year. Johnny was very young when he was drafted and progressed incredibly over the next three years into stud category.

      Even tyler ennis, the highest drafted shorty I can think of (late 1st), put up junior numbers miles back of Debrincat. And ennis is a very good player.

      The closest comparables to Debrincat in terms of draft year, and I’m not joking here, are the likes of Fleury, St Louis, Recchi, Hull (although even he doesnt fit cause he was 20 when he was drafted). Crazy elite company.

  • KiLLKiND

    I would absolutely love to add Debrincat however I doubt there is any chance a team trades down in the 20-30 range for what picks we can offer. An interesting article that would be great to see is what those teams in that range are looking for and what we could use to potentially get another 1st round pick this year.

    Honestly if took him at 6 I wouldn’t be dissapointed, he outscored every single player that we are considering drafting 2 years in a row…. Call me crazy but when a 5’7 rookie puts up a 50 goal season I think he should get drafted in the top 10. He is a natural right handed shooter and completely out shined Nylander these past two seasons. If he was on a line with Gaudreau the others team defence wouldn’t have a chance keeping up with the plays those two could make! Plus with 50 goals in back-to-back seasons you know he is getting high quality scoring chances and not just a perimeter passing player. If he turns out to be a flop you can quote me on saying I thought he would end up being a top 10 player from this draft.

    His size is definitive factor holding him back from a higher ranking and it’s been noted that size is a factor when ranking payers. This doesn’t take at all into consideration points about small fast players not getting hit and therefore get injured less and can play longer. Between him Keller and Jost these undersized players this draft look amazing! I really hope we say screw traditional big tough hockey, if our team is a small super fast team that scores lots, it’ll be more exciting to watch anyways.

    • Stan

      Thank god your not the GM. This is the definition of a reach. Taking a player ranked at the end of the first round with the #6 pick? That’s a firable offence. If the flames are that high on him, they trade down from #6 and pick up another first rounder.

      • KiLLKiND

        Haha I upvoted because in a most basic sense you are right. However if Tre decides Debrincat is probably going to be gone before he can draft him and no trades are available for him to make to switch picks for later in the draft I still wouldn’t be upset that we got Debrincat at 6. To me and I think some agree that Debroncat definitely has top 3 skill, and is simply lacking quite a bit in size.

        If taking a guy with back to back 50 goal seasons 6th in the OHL is a firable offense that would be shocking. Debrincat is ranked so much lower than he should be that it can be hard to gauge when he might get taken. I’m sure at least one team in the top 15 feels that he can and will make an impact in the NHL. Or could he fall like Kylington and it looks like Nylander is doing now?

        So yes drafting a player ranked in the 20-30 range at 6 is a bad idea, however would you have been mad at taking Giroux at 6 even though he wasn’t ranked then? Scouts get the rankings wrong every single year, odds are the consensus #6 won’t turn out to be the 6th best player from this draft anyway why not take the guy you feel will be the best player left? To me the next top 4 forwards after the big 3 are Dubois, Keller, Jost and Debrincat the only thing holding 3 of them back is size. I am not advocating to draft him that early if we can get another pick in the 1st round but if we can’t wouldn’t you prefer him over Ktachuk or Nylander?

  • Baceda

    Great highlight reel. The guy looks incredibly casual when he plays, it’s kind of weird.
    I would love if the Flames could add this kid (though admittedly I feel that way after almost every prospect profile)

  • Bean-counting cowboy

    Can’t see him getting past some of the Leaf’s picks. They have the 1st from the Kessel trade and another 2nd before ours at 35.

    This kid fits the mold of what the Leaf’s are trying to do. With Dubas there, no way this kid goes to 35 overall.

    I’m calling it right now. Debrincat will be a Leaf.

    • Parallex

      I wouldn’t put money on that. The Leafs have pick 1, 29 or 30, then 31, then 56. I don’t think Debrincat lasts to 56 and they aren’t taking him with 1 (obviously) so then that just leaves the pick from Pittsburgh and their 2nd rounder… looking at their depth chart I would put more money on the Leafs using those to address goaltending (via trade) and/or blueliners.

  • freethe flames

    The only way the flames get him is if they trade the 6th for something they need; say a trade of Anderson and the Ducks pick at 24. Both BT and BB have said they want to get black and blue; how do you do this with 2 guys Johnnies size. Yes we need more talent but I just don’t imagine the Flames getting this guy unless he falls significantly.

      • freethe flames

        Being tall does not make you a black and blue team.

        If the president of hockey operations has a style of hockey he wants played, and the GM has basically agreed with it, us fans should be listening. It does not mean we have to agree; personally I want us to get more skilled but that does not mean a team must get tiny. I think the kid is a very good player that does make him a very good Flames prospect under current management.

        • Baalzamon

          Being tall does not make you a black and blue team.

          Being short does not make you soft.

          If Gaudreau was soft, he wouldn’t be in the NHL. Burke likes Mangiapane because he’s “black and blue.” DeBrincat sounds a lot like Mangiapane, except with better numbers at a younger age.

          Burke also likes Kylington, by the way. He’s not all about “black and blue” players. Never has been.

          • freethe flames

            You are right being short does not make you soft. Mangiapane is significantly bigger and has a reputation of being aggressive. Again it’s not like I don’t like the player, I just think it is unlikely the Flames draft him. He will not be around at 35 or 53 or 55 when we do get our second picks. Again unless we can swing a deal for the 6th that meets a team real need(a starting goalie or a legit top 6 forward) and a later round 1st rounder then I see the discussion as almost pointless.

  • FL@med

    Bryce Van Brabant and the 35th pick for Dallas’s 25th, or Anaheims 24th. If this offer isn’t enough then also throw in Pavel Karnaukhov. After attaining our second first rounder, draft Debrincat. He’s an absolute Beaut.

  • Franko J

    At pick 35 I don’t anticipate Debrincat being available, but his fellow line mate in Raddysh would look good in a Flames jersey.

    Now in the video a sleeper pick is going to be Sambrook.
    From what I have seen in my limited viewing he reminds me of Brodie in his draft year. Of course like any prospect they require time to develop, but he can sure skate and sees the ice well.

    If the Flames are going to target another “undersized” {perceived} skilled player in the mold of Debrincat who could be available at pick 35 is Will Bitten.

    • freethe flames

      There are a number of guys who at 35,53 and 55 who could meet both BPA and team need including a guy like Raddysh. Pu has risen significantly in many people’s minds and a guy like Bastian might also be still available. All three of these guys are bigger RH players. There will be someone who suprisingly drops. Maybe other teams are worried Debrincat size and he drops(doubtful because of his talent).

      Draft day should be interesting as that is the day that other major moves happen; I would not be surprised if BT has another major move for us then.

    • freethe flames

      Jordan Sambrook is ranked in the 90’s by Central scouting.So not likely at 35 or even with any of the other second rounders. Will Bitten is indeed a good candidate at 35 but their are others as well.