Rozner: Blackhawks' DeBrincat made a choice to change this season. The results look good.
For those with talent, it's not difficult to become a complete hockey player.
It's just a choice. That's the tough part. It's first the admission that you're not, and then putting in the hard work necessary to get there.
Effort is, after all, a choice.
Alex DeBrincat made that decision this season. He went from a guy who had never met his goaltender to a player who was effective in all three zones. He was a reliable penalty killer and a 200-foot player who wasn't afraid to get messy in the corners, behind the net or camped out in front.
The 23-year-old has always played bigger than his size, but now he's a responsible player who cares about winning as much as scoring -- and he did a boatload of scoring this season.
"I thought I did a pretty good job early in the season to become more of a complete player, more of a two-way guy that can be relied on in all different situations," DeBrincat said. "I think I did a good job of that. I tailed off here and there, but for the most part I thought I was pretty good in that aspect.
"Can always get better, but I made a big step this year and a lot of that was what I went through last year. Everything happens for a reason. Just got to keep working hard and pushing."
What happened last season was DeBrincat couldn't score to save his life. In the process, he was also an ugly minus-10. He fell from 41 goals in a full season to 18 in 70 games, but bounced back this season with a very strong 32 goals and 56 points in 52 games.
And he doesn't sound satisfied.
"(The next step) is becoming an even better two-way player," DeBrincat said. "If I can consistently play that way, it helps our team win more games, so that's something I'll put pressure on myself to do.
"I'll work over the summer to be ready for the long season and be ready to do that for 82 games. That's something I'm really focused on."
It's not unusual for a goal scorer to arrive in the NHL thinking all he has to do is score goals. What's not nearly as frequent is a player like that understanding that there is more to winning than scoring.
It takes a commitment every night and on every shift, but that is also a choice.
"We played a lot of games in a short amount of time this year, so you're definitely tired some nights, but you've just got to have that mentality where you're going to work hard every night," DeBrincat said. "It makes the game easier when you do that.
"You've got to have the legs to do it, but your mentality coming in every night has to be the same. That's something I've been working on."
Having the legs, well, that's a function of training, rest and avoiding serious injury, but it begins in the summer.
"A lot of it starts in the gym," DeBrincat said. "My trainer has a plan for me and we'll probably sit down at some point to talk about that.
"Every year, you have a chance over the summer to get better and faster and stronger, and you just got to work hard to do that.
"My shot can never get good enough. That's something I'll be working on a lot, but it's everything. I can get faster, more agile. There's so many things that I can work on over the summer to get me ready for next season."
Missing the playoffs again is no fun, but at least this time the Hawks were in it for a while. As young players began to hit the wall, the Hawks began to fall, a predictable result for a season in which the Hawks finally admitted they were rebuilding.
"We were having fun when we were winning games and in a playoff spot," DeBrincat said. "When we started that downfall, it's obviously not as fun to come to the rink every day, but that's what we want to work for, winning more often.
"It's tough. It's obviously something you don't want to get used to. You want to have that drive to win every game, but it's something you've got to go through.
"You're not going to make the playoffs every year of your career, so hopefully we can start next year, hopefully go on a run. We did get better this year. I think we improved a lot and I think we have a good team going forward, so we'll see what happens.
"But you have to come prepared every night. It's going to be, hopefully, different next year, but it's something we can learn from."
At least DeBrincat can head home for the summer knowing he did his part.