The Chicago Blackhawks will finally get their season underway on Thursday when they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins at the United Center, and new faces are all over the lineup as the team hits the ice.
Some of those new faces aren’t so new, with Brandon Saad and Patrick Sharp both returning to the team, but some are, including young forward Alex DeBrincat, who will make his NHL debut on Thursday night.
“Being my first NHL game, there’s a lot of excitement, and I’m sure the nerves will come a little bit later,” he said. “I’m just really excited right now.”
At just 19 years old, DeBrincat joins the Blackhawks after starring in the OHL with the Erie Otters for the last three seasons. A second-round pick of the Blackhawks in 2016, DeBrincat scored 65 goals and dished out 62 assists in his final junior season, and he’ll hope to bring offensive upside and speed to a Blackhawks team that was sorely lacking in both areas last season.
DeBrincat’s first chance to make an impression will come against the defending champion Penguins, and he’s relishing the opportunity to show what he can do against a star-laden roster.
“I think I’d be excited no matter what, but there’s a lot of star players on that team, and to play against them is pretty exciting,” he said. “Hopefully we can shut them down.”
Tasked with shutting down the Penguins are defensemen like Jan Rutta, who is also making his NHL debut, and Connor Murphy, who will make his first regular season appearance for the Blackhawks after coming over in a summer trade that sent Niklas Hjalmarsson to Arizona.
Veteran defenseman Cody Franson, who signed a one-year deal with the Blackhawks earlier this week, is a healthy scratch tonight for Chicago, as is Jordan Oesterle.
Saad – Toews – Panik
Hartman – Schmaltz – Kane
Sharp – Anisimov – DeBrincat
Bouma – Kero – Hayden
Keith – Seabrook
Kempny – Murphy
Forsling – Rutta
The Penguins are coming off of a hard-fought loss to the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night, and they’ll be in for another stern test against the Blackhawks.
The key for the Blackhawks will be two-fold. They need to put a lot of pressure on netminder Antti Niemi by producing a lot of shots early in the game, and they need to use their ability to create traffic in front of the net in order to screen the goaltender from seeing the puck.
Brandon Saad will be a key to the latter effort, and the speed of players like DeBrincat and Patrick Kane will be key to the former. If the Blackhawks can use their edge speed to dictate tempo against a team coming off a hard-fought physical battle, and if they can create screens and get opportunities for cheap goals in front, then they have a great chance to make a statement against the defending champions.