Coming into training camp, there was a couple of things worth keeping an eye on for the Boston Bruins ahead of the 2021-22 season. How was the goaltending going to shake out without Tuukka Rask? Who is going to be the player that steps up and takes over the second-line center position with David Krejci not on the roster for the first time since the 2006-07 season? How is the defense going to hold up after going through some subtractions and additions?
One other storyline that is worth keeping an eye on is how Jake DeBrusk’s training camp goes following a very disappointing 2020-21 season. Two seasons after scoring a career-high 27 goals and one season removed from scoring 19, the 2015 first-round selection at No. 14 had just five goals and nine assists in 41 games. Through two preseason games, the results have been encouraging for both DeBrusk and the Bruins.
Bruins Show Confidence in DeBrusk
It would not have surprised anyone if general manager Don Sweeney traded DeBrusk, who is in the second and final season of a two-year bridge deal he signed in November of 2020 with a $3.675 million cap hit, this offseason to fill a need at center or on defense. Instead, Boston held onto DeBrusk with the hope he has a bounce-back season. DeBrusk admitted that he heard the chatter of him being involved in a trade this past summer.
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“My name was getting dropped a lot this year, eh?’’ said DeBrusk. “It’s been like that for probably four years…obviously I like being a Bruin. I was drafted here and love the boys. It’s one of those things that I look a little bit more personal when I was younger…it will take a lot more than Twitter to get to me this year.’’
Sweeney and coach Bruce Cassidy know that what they saw last season is not the DeBrusk they have seen in his previous three seasons that saw him score a combined 62 goals in the regular season and another 14 in the playoffs.
Last season, DeBrusk was moved up and down the lineup with veterans Krejci and Charlie Coyle, who was playing with an injured knee that affected his season. This season, DeBrusk is expected to play alongside veterans Erik Haula and Nick Foligno, which should help him.
“They’re both pretty good players,’’ said DeBrusk. “Erik’s faster than what I remember playing against him; just a good, smart player, makes plays. So does Nick. Nick makes all the little plays…I thought that we did all right the first couple days and it seems like they’re getting along with the boys pretty well too.’’
Two Preseason Games, Two Positive Performances for DeBrusk
It’s only been two preseason games, but the returns are encouraging for both DeBrusk and the Bruins. On Sept. 26 against the Washington Capitals, DeBrusk had the first preseason goal, then scored the game-winner in the shootout of a 3-2 win. Not only were the numbers good, but the overall performance was good as well.
He finished with 18:53 of time-on-ice with a team-high three shots on net. He was energized, engaged and more importantly, he didn’t look like the 2020-21 DeBrusk. He was one of the veterans in the lineup that night as the Black and Gold sent a lot of their minor leaguers to play the road game. He played on the top line with Haula and Jesper Froden.
On Sept. 30 against the Philadelphia Flyers at the TD Garden in his second game of the preseason, DeBrusk again scored a goal. At the end of the second period of a 4- 2 Bruins’ win, he was able to finish off a strong net drive by jamming home the puck.
Before the game, the two teams agreed to do a shootout, regardless of the result. Both teams missed their first three chances and then the Flyers missed their fourth opportunity. Cassidy called on DeBrusk to be Boston’s fourth shooter and just like he did against the Capitals, DeBrusk ended the shootout with a goal. It sure seems like Cassidy is doing everything he can to get DeBrusk’s confidence going as quickly as possible.
DeBrusk Key to Bruins 2021-22 Success
Boston knows what they have in their top-six forwards, with the only real question being who replaces Krejci between Hall and Smith. After that, they hope to get more production than they got all of last season. DeBrusk is the biggest key piece to the bottom-six as he is the one player that can be a 20-goal scorer or dare I say, a 30-goal scorer? It’s clear that Cassidy is putting him in situations to be as successful as he can be in training camp and preseason games. Gaining confidence would be a big step for DeBrusk before the regular season starts.
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If the Bruins want to get to where they have visions of in 2021-22, DeBrusk will have to play a big role in that. A third line of DeBrusk-Haula-Foligno that plays up to their capability will go a long way in helping the Bruins become a factor in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference. It’s only been two preseason games, but after a disastrous 2020-21 season, the Bruins have to be encouraged by DeBrusk’s early performance. For more Bruins season preview articles, check out The Hockey Writers Bruins section.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.