Boston Bruins

Mar 11, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk (74) controls the puck during the third period against the New York Rangers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a pretty miserable year for Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk.

And finally, even after he ended a ridiculous drought with his first non-bubble five-on-five goal in over a calendar year in a 4-0 win, his attitude fits the season.

I think that the reason why I played that way [Thursday] was because I was pissed off,” DeBrusk, who admitted that he’s heard the noise and read the stories, said. “So I think I need to keep that. Obviously, the game’s done, it’s all happy. It’s a different narrative now because I scored. But I’m keeping that [anger]. That’s not going away.”

Well. Welcome to the party, JD.

While your anger regarding his play may be nothing new, this entire thing is unbelievably foreign to the 24-year-old wing.

Among the most likable players on the entire roster — and certainly considered the most personable if he wasn’t on the same team as Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak — DeBrusk’s never really felt the heat like he has from all angles in recent days. It began when his coach expressed his issues with his effort, then his general manager expressed shock that his line had yet to score a five-on-five goal this year, and the team president essentially outed him as having gone through multiple conversations like the one that came before and after his healthy scratch on Tuesday. And, I’m sure his social media mentions are an absolute dumpster fire, but that actually may his most normal part of 2021.

(We’re also still in the middle of a global pandemic where distractions and joyful moments have proven to be few and far between, and life on the road for NHL players has been hotel-and-rink-hotel-and-rink with no stops outside permitted.)

It’s pretty tough sledding when your on-ice game has been as bad as DeBrusk’s has been this season.

“Feels like everyone thinks I’m kind of done here, so,” DeBrusk said in his first answer of the evening. “I know what I need to do. I think that there’s been lots of articles, so you guys probably can figure it out too, to be honest with you.

“I’m a pretty easy target at the moment. I mean, I understand the territory. It’s pretty much warranted. So I get that. But, yeah, I took it personally for sure. I mean, who wouldn’t? Any time that you get scratched, it stings. I’m beyond frustrated already and it just kind of was nice. It was a nice little reset for me because I knew I was coming in with some heat.”

This, again, is totally new to DeBrusk.

Even when the Bruins were being crucified for their 2015 NHL Draft missteps, DeBrusk was often exempt from the worst of its wrath.  His breakout 2018 postseason played a factor in that, but even before then, DeBrusk outright admitted to me that he thought the other picks from that draft probably had it worse given who they were effectively replacing via trade (DeBrusk was drafted with Boston’s natural pick that year, unlike Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn). It’s only over the last two years that we’ve seen DeBrusk grouped in as one of the Bruins’ mistakes in round one almost six years ago.

The other, ‘sillier’ elements of DeBrusk’s truly one-of-a-kind and endearing personality — the over-the-top celebrations for regular-season goals, the generally aloof and smirk-inducing answers to questions, and allegedly poor dieting habits both DeBrusk and teammates have joked about — are also embraced when things are going well.

But struggling on a new contract worth almost $4 million, and with the Bruins passing on numerous worthwhile free agent options because of their belief in DeBrusk bouncing back from a quieter 2019-20, he’s now considered fair game.

As he said, that comes with the territory. And his first response to that was matching anger with anger.

That anger went beyond his postgame Zoom conference, too. Back on the left side of Boston’s second line, DeBrusk got on the board with a goal (and after missing his first golden chance), but also added a pair of hits, pair of takeaways, and a block in 15:48. In terms of the effort, there wasn’t a single complaint to be made. He combined with Nick Ritchie for a sandwich hit on the Colin Blackwell early in the first period, and bodied Brendan Smith off a puck behind the Ranger net to extend an offensive-zone shift for the Bruins later in the game. He then had his stick crosschecked out of his hands on a net-front drive and could be heard yelling, “what the f–k was that?” from six floors up. There was a different attitude.

“I liked his details [Thursday],” Brad Marchand said of DeBrusk first game back in action. “He was stopping on pucks, competing hard, finishing checks, blocking shots. So that’s how he has to play. I mean, he’s going to score when he gets in position, but it’s other other areas of his game that when he plays like that, he’s a he’s a phenomenal player.”

That’s the kind of iron sharpens the iron stuff that tends to weed out the players from the pretenders in Boston’s room.

David Krejci, Boston’s highest-paid forward for almost a decade, has felt the same heat as DeBrusk. And at the same time as DeBrusk, actually. Brad Marchand dealt with it around the same age as DeBrusk. Even David Pastrnak, a Rocket Richard winner before the age of 25, has (somehow) seen his name thrown in the mud for nonsensical reasons. The goalie? Forget it. Zdeno Chara was always a fascinating litmus test of a B’s fan during his 14-year run. (Honestly, Patrice Bergeron is probably the only player in the 21st century of Bruins Hockey to dodge the pitchforks throughout his tenure.)

Conversely, others were melted when the heat turned up on them. Dougie Hamilton really wasn’t a fan of the pressure he felt as the next guy in Boston. Reilly Smith didn’t love it all that much either. They’ve both since found their fits in new cities, but their struggles to overcome the noise often became the Bruins’ struggles. And the Bruins really don’t want to be forced into the same mistake they made with Smith (selling low on a mid-20s talent who plays at a position of need), which is why this initial approach from DeBrusk, as out of character as it may seem, is damn near perfect.

“It’s time to build,” DeBrusk said. “Going through lows and highs [of a season], I haven’t had a high yet. Everyone loves to point out to the goals and assists, but you gotta look at the actual game. I think my details were better and that’s why I actually got on the board. It’s a matter of not overthinking it and just having similar mindset [every night].”

“We need him to be a big player if we’re going to be a dangerous team and compete for a Cup,” Marchand said. “I liked that about his game [Thursday]: he continued to push.”

Both in the game and back on the narrative that’s engulfed his season.