Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MAY 04: Jake DeBrusk #74 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the first period of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden on May 04, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Skating with just one goal through the first 17 games of his 2021 season to his name, Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk seems beyond stuck in the mud of what’s without question the worst slump of his professional career.

The Bruins have tried just about everything they can to get DeBrusk’s game going, too. He’s bounced around lines — both at his natural left side and on the right — and was even reunited with David Krejci. But nothing’s worked for DeBrusk or the Bruins, and it’s getting increasingly difficult to ignore the zeros racking up.

It’s even harder to find the formula to pull DeBrusk out of this slump.

“I don’t think there’s a magic answer,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Sunday’s loss to the Devils. “We would have used it last year, this year.”

It’s never great when a coach is even throwing in a comment on your struggles last year. But to be honest, at this point, it all seems like fair game, with DeBrusk having scored just two goals in his last 31 non-bubble regular season games dating back to last season, and with that Mar. 3, 2020 goal standing as DeBrusk’s last regular-season five-on-five goal. It’s just a brutal cold spell that’s coming at a time where the Bruins simply need more.

But Cassidy doesn’t believe DeBrusk is too dissimilar from some other Bruins who have found their game.

“A little bit like when Charlie [Coyle] goes quiet, right. Like Charlie will possess pucks, but then he’s not attacking like he did in New York saying, you know, try D one-on-one, make a move and go right to the net and shoot it. There’s a little bit of that with Jake now,” Cassidy said. “He’s not Charlie in terms of physical stature, but he has foot speed he can use to beat some D and free himself up for a shot, kind of like [David Pastrnak].

“So there’s a little bit of that that’s missing in Jake’s game where he could create some turnovers off the forecheck and [generate] some second efforts around pucks to to strip people loose pucks. A little bit like [Brad Marchand]’s game. So, I mean, he’s got some of those attributes of those two. He hasn’t been in the league as long as those two, but we’ve seen [that] his foot speed is second to none. We’ve seen him have a good release, seen him [with] second effort on pucks and get inside. He’s got to put it together every night.”

Cassidy’s comments on DeBrusk may also speak to his willingness to let DeBrusk play through his struggles.

Despite the Bruins’ status as one of the top threats in the East, you’ve seen Cassidy send some early-season messages and bench some of the team’s other forwards benched when struggling to carry their weight; Anders Bjork and Chris Wagner are two names that come to mind, and Sean Kuraly is currently in Cassidy’s doghouse.

But DeBrusk has remained in action throughout this stretch, and even though Cassidy has put some pressure on him to perform, he has also seemingly tried to inspire some confidence in his game when noting DeBrusk’s battle level and second-effort abilities, even when the stats tell a different story.

It also feels telling that three of DeBrusk’s six highest ice-time nights in 2021 have come in the last week. There’s a seriously committed effort to helping DeBrusk fight his way out of the dark.

Maybe that’s Cassidy knowing that there’s not a better solution on his roster (Nick Ritchie has already emerged as a better left-side fit with Krejci), and that the numbers should eventually turn. The latter is worth noting, as DeBrusk’s 2.9 shooting percentage is an obvious career low, and is the seventh-worst figure among a group of 190 NHL forwards with at least 35 shots on goal this season. The numbers have to turn at some point, right? (Right?)

Or maybe it’s just that the Bruins know a scratch will do nothing to help DeBrusk pull himself out of this funk.

DeBrusk has always been afforded a longer leash than most of the other members of the Bruins’ second wave, such as Bjork, and since-traded talents like Danton Heinen and Ryan Donato. (Let’s also throw NHL goners Peter Cehlarik, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and Ryan Spooner into that group as well.)

DeBrusk’s resume certainly has something to do with that, both in terms of the B’s stick-to-itiveness when it comes to squeezing production of DeBrusk and not shattering his confidence either in the media or with a scratch, and Cassidy’s comments on DeBrusk’s game by all means confirmed that.

“Let’s say he’s a 25-goal scorer,” Cassidy, referencing DeBrusk’s 27-goal 2018-19 season, offered. “Just out of simple math, I mean, that’s a goal every third night in a season, right. So two of those nights you’re not scoring, but you’re doing what you’re supposed to do to score. So you’re just increasing your odds. And I think that’s what I think where Jake would score more if he did that every night and then eventually they’re going to go in. I mean, we see it with good goal scorers in this league. And that’s so that’s why I think Jake’s game’s at.”

In other news, anybody have some spare magic answers kicking around?