The long-anticipated dismantling of the Chicago Blackhawks’ roster has begun with the team trading Alex DeBrincat to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.

For Ottawa, the Senators add a two-time 40-goal scorer to their young and up-and-coming roster in a trade announced hours before the start of the NHL draft in Montreal.

The Blackhawks, by comparison, acquired three draft picks, including the seventh overall selection, and gained payroll flexibility with the 24-year-old expected to attract a hefty raise once his current deal expires after the 2022-23 season.

DeBrincat has one year left on a $19.2 million, three-year contract extension, after which he is eligible to become a restricted free agent.

The Blackhawks didn’t have a first-round pick entering the draft, and also acquired Ottawa’s second-round pick (39th) to give them seven selections through the first three rounds. Chicago also acquired a third-round pick in 2024.

”It was an incredibly difficult decision to trade a player of Alex’s caliber. We feel as if this move sets the Blackhawks up for future success by giving us additional flexibility and future talent,” Blackhawks GM Kyle Davidson said in a statement.

”Securing this early of a first-round pick for tonight and an additional second-round selection tomorrow allows us to fortify our prospect base with high-end players who we expect to be a difference-makers in the coming years.”

The trade comes with the Blackhawks having reached a crossroad in their franchise’s direction. Chicago has missed the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, and hasn’t won a postseason round since 2015, when the Blackhawks won their third Stanley Cup in six years.

The DeBrincat deal will create more questions for longtime Blackhawks stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

Toews and Kane – still one of the league’s most dynamic players at age 33 – have no-movement clauses, making a trade unlikely unless they ask for a change in scenery. But DeBrincat’s departure could prompt Kane or Toews to seek a new home.

DeBrincat was selected by Chicago in the second round of the 2016 draft. He put up big numbers with the OHL’s Erie Otters in juniors, but he slipped down some draft boards because of his height at 5-foot-7.

Those concerns turned out to be unfounded.

DeBrincat has been one of the NHL’s most prolific scorers since his debut with the Blackhawks in 2017. The winger matched his career high with 41 goals this past season and set a career best with 37 assists in 82 games.

Overall, he has 160 goals and 147 assists in 368 games.

But the Michigan native also has improved on the defensive end, becoming a more well-rounded player since entering the league.

He joins a burgeoning Senators roster that already features a collection of promising youngsters including Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle.

AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen contributed to this report.

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