Bruins & DeBrusk Can Both Benefit From Recent Success

During his career with the Boston Bruins, Jake DeBrusk certainly has had his ups and downs. Early in his career, the 14th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft scored a career-high 27 goals in the 2018-19 season and one year later, he was on his way to his second consecutive 20-goal season with 19 before the season was cut short in March of 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic. Things were certainly looking up for the Edmonton, Alberta native.

Following the playoff bubble in Toronto in the summer of 2020, DeBrusk became a free agent and the Bruins let him hit the open market. The returns were not what the 25-year-old would have hoped and he signed a two-year bridge deal for $7.35 million that carries a $3.675 million cap hit. DeBrusk struggled through the 56-game shortened 2020-21 campaign with five goals and 14 points in 45 games. He missed 11 games between COVID-19 and being a healthy scratch multiple times by coach Bruce Cassidy, including in the playoffs in the second round against the New York Islanders.

Related: Bruins Need More Than Just One Trade Deadline Move to be Contenders

When the Bruins began training camp in September at Warrior Ice Arena, DeBrusk was looking forward to a fresh start in the 2021-22 season, but just two months into the campaign, things went back to the way it was last season. On Nov. 28 against the Vancouver Canucks at the TD Garden, DeBrusk found himself as a healthy scratch along with newcomer Erik Haula. After the game, it was reported that he had requested a trade from the Black and Gold through his agent, a report that was later confirmed by general manager Don Sweeney.

Bruins Were Forced to Hold On to DeBrusk Following Trade Request

Sweeney has made it clear that he is in no rush to deal for the sake of dealing him, but he would be patient to get what he feels is like the right package in return. To compound matters, Brad Marchand has forced the hand of Sweeney to hold onto his second overall pick as GM by being suspended twice for a total of nine games since the trade request. 

Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins
Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Marchand received a three-game suspension for slew-footing the Canucks Oliver Ekman-Larsson in the Nov. 28 game that DeBrusk was scratched in a 3-2 Boston win. On Feb. 8, Marchand lost his cool in the final seconds of a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins when he punched Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry, then rubbed his stick in his face. He received a six-game suspension, the longest of his career, from the league. Missing their leading scorer at the time for nine games was a big loss and DeBrusk was needed more than ever during his tenure in Boston.

DeBrusk has bounced around the bottom-six most of the season, but recently, he has been putting the puck into the net at key moments for the Bruins. In a 3-2 overtime win over the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 19, he scored his eighth goal of the season. Two days later in an impressive 5-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche, he scored a goal in a three-goal second period to increase the Boston lead to 4-1 over the top team point-wise in the NHL.

His biggest contributions came Thursday night against the Seattle Kraken in their first trip to Climate Pledge Arena. With the Bruins trailing 1-0 late in the first period, he knocked in a loose puck at the side of the net. In overtime, he scored the game-winning goal 33 seconds into the extra session when he carried the puck into the Kraken zone with speed, made a move around a defenseman, and beat Philipp Grubauer from a tough angle for the victory.

Prior to the game, Cassidy moved DeBrusk from the fourth line to the first line with Marchand and Patrice Bergeron to the right wing, his off-wing. Playing on his off-wing is nothing new for DeBrusk, who finished the game with four shots on the net, three blocks in just under 19 minutes of time-on-ice. His effort did not go unnoticed by Cassidy.

“He had his legs tonight. He was hard on pucks,” said Cassidy. “Obviously attacked well on the overtime goal, good to go down the forward side, recognition…I think they were a good line for us, they just didn’t get on the scoresheet but generated a lot. When Jake’s skating, I don’t think it matters what wing he’s on to be honest with you.

“Earned his minutes. Really nice job for us. Really good job. That’s what Jake can do. He can score goals.”

Even though both goals were scored without Marchand and Bergeron on the ice, playing with those guys can only help DeBrusk raise his trade value. Since the Bruins returned to the ice in January, DeBrusk has been a more consistent player in all aspects of his game and the Black and Gold are benefitting. DeBrusk spoke with the media following Thursday night’s win for the first time since his trade request went public.

“I think it was just mentality. It was probably since the All-Star Break or Christmas break, maybe, went to go home and see my family, and I think ever since then, things have been mediating to what I like out of my game,” said DeBrusk. “It’s hard to judge every game – but as of late, I think it’s just more so I’m finishing. It’s one of those things where you can have a Grade-A and you put it in the perfect spot and sometimes it doesn’t go in. Other times, guy tries to clear it out of the front of his net and it lands on the goal line. It’s a game of inches. I’ve been happy to contribute for the team.”

Not many, if any, of the four goals DeBrusk has scored is going to be put on a highlight real, but lighting the lamp and gaining confidence is more important than how pretty it looks with the puck going into the net. In 46 games this season, he is up to 11 goals and eight assists.

DeBrusk Producing is a Win-Win For Bruins

The case could be made that this recent goal-scoring outburst of four goals in three games is what the Bruins thought they were going to get from him when they re-signed him in October of 2020. It has not gone that way, but right now, his teammates, Cassidy, and Sweeney have to be happy with his effort and production. Of course, the media asked DeBrusk about his trade request Thursday night in their first chance since Novemeber.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney
Bruins General Manager, Don Sweeney (Boston Globe staff photo by John Tlumacki)

“To be honest, I had a meeting with the guys I think when it first kind of hit or first got out there and I told them I wouldn’t be a distraction, so I respectfully plead the fifth on all of those,” said DeBrusk. “I just want to talk about the game and stuff…I haven’t talked to you guys in a while, it’s a fair question but I won’t be answering that…it’s one of those things where it’s a tough situation but I’m focusing day to day like I said earlier in the year.”

Those don’t sound the comments of a player that could be thinking about going back on his trade request and wanting to finish the season out in Boston. No one could blame him. Sweeney most likely is still fielding calls and will continue to receive calls on DeBrusk leading up to the trade deadline on March 21, especially if his play continues in the positive direction it’s going recently. No one really expected him to answer the question, but not answering should tell you what he wants and that is most likely a fresh start somewhere else. A restricted free agent at the end of the season that will be due to a $4.41 million qualifying offer, it’s extremely unlikely he would sign another contract with the Bruins and play with another team starting in 2022-23. 

Bruins Need DeBrusk to Prove Himself on First Line

What the Bruins need now is for him to continue to produce at the clip he is and hope a team sees value in him to work out a deal. There are plenty of needs that the Bruins have, a second-line center, a left-shot defenseman, and a right-wing if they want to be a team that is a contender when the postseason begins in May. DeBrusk’s hot streak can be seen as helping the team now and in the future to fill a roster need. 

Related: Bruins Reward DeBrusk With First-Line Opportunity

Despite his recent play, it’s time to cut ties with him with his stock rising and move on with a deal that makes the Black and Gold a better team than they are now. It will be hard to do a player-for-player deal to fill a need, but his recent play has raised his value and could lessen the blow on the number of prospects or draft picks that have to be included. With three weeks remaining until the trade deadline, DeBrusk is playing himself into a situation that can help not only himself, but the Bruins too.

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