By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
With a new, two-year deal to his name, Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk can officially focus on his future.
And he’s already found his focus for next year’s improvements.
“I’ve been focusing on probably just my physical side of the game,” DeBrusk said after signing his deal. “I think I’ve put on some weight already and have really been attacking just getting stronger overall.
“That’s my main focus. There is pretty much a glaring aspect of my game that was last year. I don’t think it was necessarily there my first year. I kind of looked at – obviously, throughout this whole process I’ve looked at pretty much every single stat you can find. I looked at some things and to be able to see that is obviously easy to change. There’s no reason why I can’t have a hit per game.”
To DeBrusk’s point, his 2019-20 campaign came with just 35 hits in 65 games. It was his lowest single-season hit total to date in his three NHL seasons, and his totals have now gone from 70 down to 45 and then the aforementioned 35 this past season.
33 of those 35 hits came at even strength, and DeBrusk’s 2.27 hits per 60 minutes of even-strength play were the second-fewest among all Boston regulars (Torey Krug had just 2.04), and ranked as the 61st-fewest out of a group of 196 forwards with at least 800 even-strength minutes to their name in 2019-20.
That’s just not good enough for DeBrusk.
“I’m not saying I’m going to be running around out there, but obviously, I could finish checks more,” DeBrusk admitted. “That’s usually how I play. That’s how I’ve been known to play. It just didn’t really happen much this year and it’s one thing I felt like it affected my game a lot. It could open up space for me, my teammates and also just getting the puck. That’s the biggest thing. Obviously, you’re trying to get possession of it. Defenseman don’t think they’re going to get hit, they’ll take an extra second to make that play. It’s just a matter of getting on them as fast as I cans, use my foot-speed, use my strengths to get there and then from the rest, it’s just hockey.”
Expecting DeBrusk to morph from wiry, inconsistent net-front presence to in-prime Milan Lucic overnight is wishful thinking and you will only be disappointed. Even if he puts on some weight, DeBrusk will never be the terrifying power forward that he replaced as David Krejci’s left-side constant. He also doesn’t have the demeanor of somebody who’s going to put you through a wall for fun. (He’d probably be giggling the entire time, honestly.)
But the Bruins do have their own ideas as to how DeBrusk, who scored a career-high 27 goals in 2018-19, can utilize his skill-set to instill a different type of fear in the opposition.
“For the speed Jake brings to the table, there’s no reason why Jake can’t kill penalties,” B’s general manager Don Sweeney said. “There’s no reason that Jake can be an even better net front presence this year, where he scored a bunch of goals this year but also missed opportunities. That’s that inside presence, that ability to get inside the dots with consistency. Being a little more of a threat on a forecheck as an F1. With his speed, his abilities, he has the talents to continue to commit himself on the physical side of things.”
Looking at the Bruins’ roster — especially on the left side with Brad Marchand expected to miss the start of the season and puck-eater Joakim Nordstrom off to Calgary — there’s definitely a forward who’s getting thrown into the penalty-killing rotation next season. DeBrusk is willing, too, if it’s his name that’s called.
“I think that especially on the forecheck, I’m one of the fastest guys on the team and when I’m playing well, I’m skating. I could definitely put more pressure on D-men and be more physical in those corners. It’s not necessarily the right idea if I’m not pushing the pace of play. Obviously, just getting my stick in there. I feel like I have a decent stick already once I do get in there. I agree with [Sweeney], just kind of just disrupting plays, disrupting breakouts and it can cause turnovers and obviously can create chaos around the net.
“I think it actually just goes hand in hand with my game: It’s not necessarily thinking differently. It’s just being fully aggressive. Just going all out, all the time is kind of what that means.”