By his own recollection, it’s been almost three years since Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk felt this good about his game.
“Obviously when pucks are going in and production’s there, it feels good,” DeBrusk admitted Monday night in Los Angeles. “It’s one of those things where it’s just the game of hockey. You need bounces. Whether it’s passes, goals or whatever to find it, but an inch here or inch there it’s not in the net or it’s in the net, and it kind of makes you giggle, but it’s a very rewarding feeling.”
And it’s been a white-hot five-game run from the 25-year-old wing that’s flipped everything on its head for the Bruins.
When the Bruins last tasted defeat, DeBrusk skated off the UBS Arena ice with just over 11 minutes of time on ice (second-lowest to only Anton Blidh) and in a tie for the 226th-most goals (seven) in the NHL in 2021-22. Maybe they weren’t kidding when they said the Kraken’s Mason Appleton was the best that the Bruins could fetch for the trade-me-right-effin’-now DeBrusk. But now, with seven goals over the course of the B’s five-game winning streak, and a promotion to the top line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron along the way, DeBrusk has elevated himself up to a tie for the 103rd-most goals in the league. At this rate, he’ll be in the top 50 by the 2022 NHL trade deadline. And, huh, ain’t that something.
Speaking with the reporters last week for the first time since his request went public back in November, DeBrusk basically said that his desire for a fresh start is still there without outright saying it. The Bruins, meanwhile, have held firm on the idea that it’s gonna be best, not first, trade available when it comes to moving DeBrusk.
But what if there’s not a trade that makes it worth the Bruins parting with DeBrusk, a player who has shown an ability to mesh with Bergeron and Marchand, and is finally looking and playing the player the Bruins (and DeBrusk himself) have waited to return to form? Because this version of No. 74 is awfully valuable to the Bruins.
“He’s working above pucks, trying to play the right way, so [I’m] happy for him,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Monday’s win. “It’s made us a more dangerous lineup, obviously, when he’s going and contributing on that line.”
Together for over 28 minutes of five-on-five play this season, the Marchand-Bergeron-DeBrusk line has now outshot opponents by a downright ridiculous 30-6 mark and outscored ‘em 2-0. They’ve generated 21 scoring chances, and nine of the high-danger variety, and let up almost nothing at the other end in terms of chances over that six-shot sample. One thing that the Bruins have clearly loved about DeBrusk’s potential long-term fit with Marchand and Bergeron has been his ability to use his speed to get in on the forecheck, and how DeBrusk can retrieve pucks when it’s a player as cerebral as Bergeron dumping them into the corners. The Bruins also believe DeBrusk’s found the advantages of puck retrieval while playing his off wing.
With a player like DeBrusk, that makes a gigantic difference on the ice and between the ears, and the numbers confirm it.
“It’s all there for him: ability to finish, sees the ice, foot speed to beat guys,” Cassidy said of DeBrusk’s ceiling as a consistent player. “When he’s on puck [on the] forecheck, he’s very dangerous. If he can consistently be strong on pucks on the walls… that’s an area that almost all young guys go through, and that takes almost years to get through. I don’t wanna say what he’d end up [as], but that’s a pretty valuable player there that can play in all situations.”
Now, to be clear, the argument is whether or not you’re ‘buying in’ on DeBrusk being this player for the remainder of his career. That’s way too far of an outlook for a team led by a 36-year-old top-line center and on a planet that’s teetering just a biiiiiit too close to an all-out global conflict for anybody to feel comfortable. But is this version of DeBrusk still a piece you can afford to move for anything less than a legit, bonafide, no-doubt upgrade by the deadline? Given the Bruins’ needs (and they have more than one of ’em, which is an important thing to remember), that’s an interesting discussion.
And would this version of DeBrusk still want a move out of town ASAP? The Edmonton native has refused to state why he wants out of Boston, and his agent hasn’t spilled the beans either. But it’s no secret that DeBrusk’s relationship with Cassidy has been a rocky one over the last two years, and that he probably doesn’t want to view himself as someone with the ceiling of a third-line player at 25, which is what he’d be at his natural position behind Marchand and Taylor Hall. Well, what if he’s logging top-line minutes — even if it’s on his off wing — and continuing to build (repair?) his trust with Cassidy?
The Bruins and DeBrusk have another three weeks to figure that all out.
But right now, nobody’s complaining when everyone’s winning and the production is there.
“I sure like it when things are going like this,” admitted DeBrusk.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 7-0 win over the Kings…