CHICAGO – In hockey, the best know it takes at least two to tango.
Two linemates intertwined and uncommonly in sync, working as a devastating collective force on the ice. A center and a winger metaphorically blazing trails with their skates, peppering goalies with shots and humiliating helpless defensemen. Someone has to be on the other end of your incredible no-look passes. Someone has to know you hockey-wise as well as you know the back of your own hand. Two players always acting as one, creating an on-ice symphony.
When you’re a young and still-developing player, not only is it most optimal to find a lethal combination with someone, it’s the prescribed ideal for having a worthwhile career. This is especially true for long time friends and up and coming Blackhawks Alex DeBrincat and Dylan Strome, who likely wouldn’t pick anyone but each other to play with. Their chemistry has been increasingly evident lately. It’s in no small part thanks to their play that the Blackhawks are riding the wave of a season-high seven-game winning streak.
On Thursday night, when Chicago faced the Vancouver Canucks at the United Center, their tear was on preeminent display. Strome, the man with the keen eye in this partnership, found the prodigy goal scorer DeBrincat with two slick primary passes for two sharp goals only DeBrincat could’ve reasonably seen coming. The second of which was a no-look pass from Strome while driving to the net with DeBrincat taking advantage of the knowledge built up from playing with his former junior hockey teammate for most of the last two and a half months.
On Sunday, with the Blackhawks looking for their seventh straight win over the Detroit Red Wings in a sleepy matinee, the dynamic duo reared its beautiful head once again. DeBrincat got matters rolling early with a primary assist to second line mate Dominik Kahun on a rush. Strome later got in on the fun with a goal of his own in what would end up being a second consecutive three-point effort. It was Strome’s sixth multi-point outing in his last nine games. The 21-year-old now has 30 points in 32 games as a Blackhawk. In other words, beyond solid production for a No. 2 center – a position that’s haunted the Blackhawks for most of the last decade.
Meanwhile, DeBrincat extended a career-high eight-game point streak in adding three assists to his impressive ledger. Ever the wiry, strong, and confident goal scorer, DeBrincat has learned to seamlessly embrace the role of facilitator when need be – a sure sign of maturity for a man morphing into a core franchise player. With his 53rd point on the year, the 5-foot-7 second-year winger has now eclipsed his point total from all of last season. A once streaky player has become the emblem of consistency.
It’s no coincidence DeBrincat is blossoming more than ever and maximizing his talents with Strome is in the fold. It’s no coincidence Strome, a former No. 3 overall pick, is producing like he was always capable of now that DeBrincat flanks him. For a player like Strome, who the Blackhawks traded for in late November, to be enjoying such a major impact so early might be jarring. But it shouldn’t be with DeBrincat in tow. If it seems like DeBrincat and Strome can read each other’s minds, it’s only a mere coincidence. They’re not actually joined at the hip like their recent play together may suggest.
Only one NHL player has more points than both DeBrincat (14) and Strome (14) since January 20th, and that would be their teammate Patrick Kane with 16. It’s a testament to the merits of these two as viable players rapidly coming into their own.
These two Blackhawks were tailor-made to feature with each other and there’s no trade secret as to what they’re accomplishing.
“We’ve been hanging out a lot away from the rink, and I think it translates to the ice,” Strome said. “We’ve played together for three years prior to this. Now it’s funny how it works where we’re back on the same team and back on the same line. For whatever reason, Jeremy (Colliton) likes us together, and we like playing with each other.”
Before they started to look like legitimate long term building blocks, DeBrincat and Strome first ignited their obvious spark of a pending exceptional partnership with the OHL’s Erie Otters in the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 seasons. For most of that span, DeBrincat and Strome largely played on the same line, as they do now in Chicago, and helped each other to respective back-to-back 100 point campaigns. The duo’s peak together came when Strome captured the 2015 OHL Scoring Title with 129 points, while DeBrincat led the OHL in scoring with 65 goals the ensuing campaign. After Strome was drafted by the Coyotes in the 2015 NHL Draft, the pair was separated for the time being and the magic would have to be put on hold.
Four years later, it is indeed funny how hockey lives can come full circle. The magic has returned and the wave doesn’t look like it’s stopping any time soon. Two former major junior teammates that helped launch their professional careers have picked up where they left off. They’re making a name for themselves at the highest level in the process, and the sky’s the limit at this rate.
In the midst of what may be a potential postseason push for the Blackhawks to close this season, one of the things that matters most is how young pieces like DeBrincat and Strome mesh. Talent development and maturation takes precedence for a good portion of a youthful team learning to win. Their individual growth on a potential fringe playoff team could mean they soon become incremental talents on a contender in the near future, provided they continue their meticulous work and pace. They can’t be separated, and they have to be allowed to free wheel together.
If the Blackhawks are fortunate, this high-powered duo starts to follow the same wavelength of their inventive OHL days and helps take them back to the limelight in due time. If DeBrincat and Strome have anything to say about it, this is only just the beginning. They’ll of course say that together.