Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk’s unsuccessful and maddening pinball around the Boston lineup through 17 equally unsuccessful and maddening appearances will bounce him all the way to the press box as a healthy scratch Tuesday night.
“We just feel we’re not getting the effort required,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said of the decision to sit DeBrusk. “It’s not always about the scoresheet. It’s about being one of 20 guys helping you win, and sometimes it’s there, and sometimes it’s not.”
It’s honestly hard to find any area where DeBrusk has excelled this season, really.
DeBrusk has just one goal to his name (and it was scored on what was a power-play gimme off a turnover), and his 2.9 shooting percentage is an obvious career-worst and is the seventh-worst among a group of 190 NHL forwards with at least 35 shots on goal in 2021. The Bruins have also fed DeBrusk offensive-zone opportunities at a rate near the top of the entire league, and have yet to reap any sort of reward from it.
And not that there’s ever a good time to score one goal in 17 games (two goals in his last 31 regular season games dating back to last year), but the worst spell of DeBrusk’s career couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Black and Gold.
Not only is DeBrusk in the first year of a new, two-year deal worth nearly $3.7 million per season, but the Bruins also passed on numerous, viable open-market talents because they believed in DeBrusk bouncing back and returning to form as a key part of their next core. That list of names they passed on included former Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall (more goals than DeBrusk despite a career-low 3.3 shooting percentage in Buffalo hell), Mike Hoffman (seven goals and 18 points in 25 games), and Tyler Toffoli (though Toffoli is a right wing).
The Bruins are also once again looking like a one-line team, and a huge reason for that comes to DeBrusk’s struggles, and the continued inability to redevelop any chemistry with David Krejci. DeBrusk has also been usurped on the Boston depth chart by Nick Ritchie, and Trent Frederic is knocking on his door. Things will only get more complicated for DeBrusk if and when free agent addition Craig Smith wakes up, and if Jack Studnicka refuses to relinquish his spot in the team’s NHL lineup.
If they fail to stick, the Bruins, who could probably use another stabilizing presence on their depleted backend, are likely looking at yet another deadline move to improve their scoring. A move that involves trading assets when the original solution would’ve only required cash. That, again, comes back to DeBrusk’s shortcomings.
And it’s especially brutal when considering that DeBrusk’s struggles have simultaneously created that need for what feels like the 10th straight year and plummeted his own trade value as one of Boston’s best chips. (Oh, and the upcoming expansion draft doesn’t make a true ‘big trade’ any easier for a Stanley Cup contender.)
But the biggest problem is that DeBrusk hasn’t been DeBrusk for some time now.
In fact, is it crazy to begin to wonder if the 2019 incident with Nazem Kadri in the first round of the 2019 playoffs, which left DeBrusk with a concussion and Kadri suspended for the second straight postseason, permanently changed DeBrusk? Perhaps not in the physical sense, but in terms of his mentality and the ‘edge’ that made him the B’s third-best winger from 2017 through 2019.
Prior to the Kadri hit in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, DeBrusk was averaging 1.12 goals and 2.2 points per 60 minutes of even-strength play, as well as 8.39 shots, 3.82 individual high-danger chances, and .74 rush attempts per 60. This was legitimate second-line production. But since then, DeBrusk has averaged 0.66 goals, 1.59 points, 9.07 shots, 3.41 individual high-danger chances, and .60 rush attempts per 60 minutes of even-strength play.
DeBrusk, who came into this season looking to play a grittier game, has also drawn fewer penalties, stripped fewer pucks, and absorbed fewer hits since that hit.
In other words, the points haven’t been there, and efforts to make a difference in other ways have come up short.
Now, there’s been brief glimpses of the ‘old’ DeBrusk since, and his Game 4 performance against the Hurricanes in the Toronto playoff bubble last year is the closest representation of what once was with DeBrusk. But, again, that aggressiveness, contagious fire from No. 74 both in front of the net and on the forecheck simply hasn’t been there on a nightly basis — and for some time now — and confidence feels like a distant memory.
The Bruins are mindful of DeBrusk’s confidence and what gets him going. It’s a big reason why it took this long for him to be scratched from the lineup. DeBrusk relies on bounces and goals to get his game going. The ask from the Bruins, however, has centered around getting DeBrusk to create his own bounces rather than waiting for one.
But unfortunately, DeBrusk’s first only self-generated bounce in 2021 has taken him out of the lineup.