Every summer, SB Nation carries out an NHL mock draft, where each team with a pick in the actual draft makes a first-round selection.
In the past, we've done fairly well with our selections. Last year, we picked Joel Eriksson Ek with our 22nd pick. In real life, he went to the Minnesota Wild at 20th-overall, and the Capitals actually selected Ilya Samsonov, who didn't go in the first round of SB Nation's mock draft. In the draft before that, Japers' Rink picked Julius Honka with the 13th overall pick. In the actual draft, Honka went to the Dallas Stars with their 14th-overall pick, and the Capitals ultimately selected Jakub Vrana, who was selected by the Tampa Bay Lightning in our mock draft with the 28th-overall pick. The year before our Honka pick, we selected J.T. Compher with our 23rd pick, but, to be fair, Andre Burakovsky, who the Capitals actually selected with the pick, was selected by the San Jose Sharks with the 20th pick in our mock draft. Four years ago, we actually had two picks. With our first pick, at 11, we selected Zemgus Girgensons. With our additional 16th pick in that draft, we selected Pontus Åberg. In the real draft in 2012, the Capitals selected Tom Wilson with that 16th overall pick, and there is mysteriously no record whatsoever of who the Caps selected with that 11th-overall pick. In the 2011 draft, we selected Scott Mayfield with the 26th pick. Mayfield actually went to the New York Islanders with their 34th-overall pick, and the Capitals actually traded their 26th-overall pick for Troy Brouwer. And, finally, with our 26th-overall pick in 2010, we took Brock Nelson. In reality, the Islanders took Nelson with the 30th-overall pick, and the Capitals instead took Evgeny Kuznetsov, who, to be fair, was selected with the 24th-overall pick in our mock draft by the Atlanta Thrashers. Good thing that didn't actually happen.
We are now on the clock for this year's edition of the mock draft, and with the 26th pick of the 2016 draft, Japers' Rink is proud to select Alex DeBrincat of the Erie Otters.
We were actually a little bit surprised the DeBrincat would be available to us at the 26th pick. It must have had something to do with his 5-foot-7 height, which, understandably, is a bit concerning for a first-round draft pick. But here's why we, quite easily, overlooked that.
Height: 5'7" Weight: 165 lbs.
Born: Farmington Hills, Michigan
Lake Erie Otters (OHL)
Projects as Scoring Winger
Over his last two years, DeBrincat has played with big time players and he's put up big time numbers.
In his first season in the OHL, DeBrincat was penciled in alongside Connor McDavid, hailed as the next bonafide superstar of the NHL, and that insertion caused Debrincat to spout off for 104 points in 68 games, the most points recorded by an OHL rookie since Patrick Kane tallied 145 in his first year with the London Knights. DeBrincat's offensive output placed him seventh among all OHLers in points that season. That not only earned DeBrincant the Emms Family Award as the OHL's top rookie, but it earned him the Rookie of the year award across the entire CHL as well. Eight of the last 11 CHL Rookie of the Year recipients have been drafted in the top ten in their respective draft year. Six of the last nine OHL rookie of the year recipients have been drafted with the number one overall draft pick in their respective year.
With McDavid departing for the NHL this season, DeBrincat slid in with another stud forward, Dylan Strome, drafted third overall just last year by the Arizona Coyotes (and he most recently earned the number one NHL prospect ranking by The Hockey News earlier this year). And, once again, DeBrincat put the points on the board, tallying 101 points in 60 games. It was also DeBrincat's second-straight season with more than 50 goals. That made him the first back-to-back 50-goal scorer since Tyler Toffoli accomplished the feat in the 2011-12 season with the Ottawa 67's.
But DeBrincat wasn't finished with playing with elite-level players. During the World Junior Championship, DeBrincat was not only one of the three 2016-draft eligible forwards to make the team, but he was penciled in alongside Auston Matthews on Team USA's top line. DeBrincat participated in just five games in USA's bronze medal run due to a suspension following a spear to Team Canada forward and Philadelphia Flyers prospect Travis Konecny's lower parts and suffering a shoulder and head injury against Team Sweden after crashing hard into the boards. A disappointing output, but, nonetheless, respectable considering he was initially relied on as a top-line player despite being a year younger than most of his teammates.
That marks three NHL franchise-caliber centers that DeBrincat has played alongside over the last two seasons.
Prior to the start of the World Junior Championship this year, DeBrincat was asked the obvious question: Why do you keep getting put alongside really, really good players? He, of course, took the modest "aw-shucks" approach hockey players typically take.
"I don't know, I can't really tell you that. They can get to the front of the net and I like to go in the corners and battle for pucks. I think it's maybe just hard work I try to put into the game."
DeBrincat's head coach in Erie, Kris Knoblauch, has seen DeBrincat alongside McDavid and Strome, two players that succeed in the offensive zone in two different ways. McDavid plays at a high tempo, challenging defensemen to knock the puck off of him as he aggressively drives to the net. Strome slows the game down, controlling the pace and often possessing the puck. Knoblauch believes he knows why DeBrincat can play with two different, but talented, players. It's simple: DeBrincat knows how to fit in his spot and he's really intelligent. In an excerpt from NHL.com's Adam Kimelman:
"To be able to play with two players that are so different, both very skilled but just the pace of the game, Alex has been able to adapt. I think that says a lot about his skill, but probably more about his hockey smarts."
An ability to adapt is a skill within itself. It takes a quality player to adjust his playing style to the liking of his teammates. But while believing DeBrincat's success has been a product of McDavid and Strome's skill level is an understandable conclusion to make, it isn't necessarily the case. This season, DeBrincat spent a bit of time, as a center, with Taylor Raddysh, a 2016 NHL draft-eligible pick likely to be selected in the second-round and Kyle Maksimovich, a 2016 NHL draft-eligible pick projected to go in the later rounds. Knoblauch pointed out DeBrincat actually found more success when he was the premier playmaker on his own line. More from Kimelman's article, in a quote from Knoblauch:
"(DeBrincat) probably only played a dozen games without one of those two guys (McDavid or Strome) being on his line, but he has played some really big games this year. This year, he was a centerman, which isn't his natural position, with Maksimovich and Raddysh. I would say probably his points per game with those guys was probably three points per game. It's only 10, 12 games, but he can't play without Dylan Strome or he can't play without Connor McDavid? Well, he's shown he can do that."
He can do that in part because he's a very difficult player to defend. Yes, he's only 5-foot-7, but DeBrincat has learned how to use that small frame to his advantage. He makes quick decisions and plays quick. Even one unnamed scout in The Hockey News said DeBrincat had more "quickness than flat-out speed." And that totally makes sense when you watch DeBrincat play. DeBrincat brings the puck in tight to his body, and his size allows him to slip between defensemen undetected when looking for open lanes to the net.
During a stretch this season, DeBrincat went on a goal-scoring tear, netting 16 goals in just 12 games. And you'd be surprised to see how much of those goals came from DeBrincat driving to the net, or, at the very least, getting himself in great position within the slot.
The Capitals have always stated they take a "best player available" approach when it comes to the draft. With DeBrincat available at the 26th pick, it was practically impossible not to believe that he was the best player available. This season in the OHL, only one 2016 draft-eligible player finished with more points than DeBrincat: Matthew Tkachuk. Tkachuk finished his first season in the OHL with 107 points, but it's also important to note that Tkachuk played the entirety of the season with Arizona Coyotes prospect Christian Dvorak and Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Mitch Marner, one of the greatest, if not the greatest, forward lines ever assembled in the history of the OHL. That's absolutely not a knock on Tkachuk, an uber-talented winger with an NHL-rich bloodline. But that strong offensive output, just six more points than DeBrincat recorded this season, cemented Tkachuk's position as a consensus top-five pick in this year's draft. The next closest 2016 draft-eligible scorer in the OHL to DeBrincat this year? Alex Nylander, projected as a top-ten pick. Nylander finished with 26 fewer points than DeBrincat.
If DeBrincat was 6 feet tall, there is absolutely no way he would have been available to us at 26, as he would have, quite easily, gone significantly earlier in this mock draft due to his monumental point output over the last two years. He's dropped because of his height, but is there ever a better time to invest in a 5-foot-7 forward than now? Ten years ago, even five years ago, investing a first-round draft pick in DeBrincat would have been nothing short of nuts. But with so many little playmakers sprouting up around the NHL out of no where over the last couple of seasons, doesn't investing in one with the pedigree of DeBrincat make a little bit of sense? This past season, Johnny Gaudreau, all 5-foot-9 of him, led his Calgary Flames in scoring, with 78 points in 79 games, good for sixth in the entire NHL. Mats Zuccarello, all 5-foot-7 of him, led his New York Rangers in scoring, with 61 points in 81 games, good for 35th in the NHL. Tyler Johnson, all 5-foot-8 of him, had a bit of an off year, with just 38 points in 69 games, but, prior to this season, he had two campaigns with at least 50 points, including a 72-point sophomore year in which he finished as the Tampa Bay Lightning's top scorer and finished with the 14th-most points in the NHL. Brendan Gallagher was limited to just 53 games this year due to broken fingers and a separate lower body injury, but, had he played a full season, Gallagher, all 5-foot-9 of him, was on pace for 62 points this season. That would have been just two points behind Max Pacioretty, who led the Montreal Canadiens with 64 points.
DeBrincat is an offensive machine, but there is absolutely no doubt that this pick is a high-risk move. But, considering our pick was so late in the first round, why not go for the home run?
Welcome to the team, Alex DeBrincat.
Where Others Are Projecting DeBrincat to Go:
International Scouting Services: 26th
Hockey Prospect: Not in Top-30
The Hockey News: 24th
Bob McKenzie (Mid-Season Ranking): 30th
Craig Button: 21st
NHL Central Scouting (North America): 21st
Draft Buzz: 27th
The Draft Analyst: 21st