Sometimes, the best deals are the ones you don’t make.
It appeared heading into the March 21 trade deadline that Jake DeBrusk was playing his final games wearing the Boston Bruins uniform. Last summer, the 25-year-old requested a trade through his agent to Bruins general manager (GM) Don Sweeney. The trade request became public following DeBrusk being a healthy scratch in a home game against the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 28.
At that time Sweeney made it clear that he was not going to trade DeBrusk for the sake of just trading him. He was going to wait for the right deal to come along that would also help his club. It was the right thing to do, wait for a deal that helps you instead of trading a disgruntled player just to get him off of your roster. Sweeney received calls on the 14th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft, but one sticking point that was a cause of concern to other teams was the $4.41 million qualifying offer DeBrusk was due at the end of the 2021-22 season as a restricted free agent (RFA).
Five hours before the 3 o’clock trade deadline on March 21, the Bruins announced that they agreed to a two-year contract extension with DeBrusk that carries a $4 million cap hit. That would make him more appealing to other teams by the deadline, knowing that he was locked up for two more years beyond this season. As the deadline passed, DeBrusk remained a Bruin and no one knew how things would end up playing out.
DeBrusk Raised Trade Value But Was Never Moved
When the Bruins headed out West for a six-game road trip that began against the expansion Seattle Kraken on Feb. 24, coach Bruce Cassidy made some lineup changes. Craig Smith was struggling on the top line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, so Cassidy slid Smith to the third line, while DeBrusk, in a somewhat surprising move, was moved up from the bottom-six to the first line on his off-wing on the right side.
DeBrusk responded right away and scored two goals, including the game-winner in a 3-2 overtime win. As each game passed on the trip, DeBrusk got better and better. He ended up with his first career hat trick four nights later in a 7-0 win over the Los Angeles Kings and finished the six-game trip with six goals and two assists. DeBrusk took pride in being placed on a line with Marchand and Bergeron.
“It’s a great honor to play with two Hall of Famers. Just wanted to try to get on pucks and try to win some races on the forecheck, take away the goalie’s eyes, simplify my game, and I think I’ve gotten some puck luck the last little bit. It’s been trending in the right direction, so I was really excited for sure.”Jake DeBrusk
In the final five games on the schedule before the trade deadline, despite recording just one assist, he raised his trade value, and with the two-year extension already under his belt, seemed like a trade was going to happen. Teams know that he has been and will continue to be a streaky goal scorer. The trade never happened.
DeBrusk is a Different Player
Since the trade deadline passed, DeBrusk has been a different player. He is playing with confidence and looks like a player who has some weight of the trade deadline and not knowing what was going to happen lifted off of his shoulders. How much confidence is he playing with? Just look at the last seven games.
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He has scored a goal in five of the last six games, including two in a 3-2 overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday night. He tied the game in the first period when he scored on a breakaway and then secured the extra point for Boston in the overtime when he scored off a 3-on-1 break off a pass from newly acquired defenseman Hampus Lindholm, who made a nice play at the offensive blue line to set the play in motion. In those seven games, he has had 17 shots on the net.
“That’s a point of emphasis to have production especially with the situation I’m in right now,” said DeBrusk. “It’s nice to bury some opportunities. Got kind of lucky in this stretch. You need some lucky bounces to go your way. But anytime you can help contribute and help the team win, especially around this time of year – it’s the playoff push – it’s always really nice. It’s something that gives you confidence.”
Not only has he been scoring goals, but he had two consecutive games on the recent five-game homestand where he recorded two assists. His forecheck and physical play led to a turnover by the New Jersey Devils in the offensive end which Marchand scored on. Earlier in the game, he created a turnover at center ice, sent a pass to Bergeron whose shot from the blue line was stopped by Devils’ goalie Nico Daws, who left the rebound in the slot and DeBrusk beat three New Jersey defensemen to the puck and scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal in an 8-1 Bruins victory.
DeBrusk has taken his skating game, his physical game, his defensive game, his offensive game, and overall confidence to another level since March 21 and looks like a player that has bought into what the Bruins are trying to do this season.
DeBrusk Can Be a Difference Maker
After a tough 56-game 2020-21 season that saw him score just five goals and record 14 points, he found himself in Cassidy’s dog house as a healthy scratch multiple times. That even carried over to the playoffs where he was a healthy scratch in Game 5 of their second-round series against the New York Islanders.
When the 2021-22 season started, DeBrusk found himself on the third line with Erik Haula and Nick Foligno, with the hopes the two veterans could get him going. It started out well with a game-winning goal from DeBrusk on Opening Night in a 2-1 win over the Dallas Stars, but things slowly turned into the last couple of seasons when he would become nonexistent and disappear at times in games.
That was until Feb. 24 when he was placed on the top line with Marchand and Bergeron. There was some thought that before the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 that DeBrusk was turning into one of the top young goal scorers in the NHL. In 2018-19, scored a career-high 27 goals, then one year later before the season was paused on March 12, he was sitting on a second consecutive 20-goal season with 19 with 12 games left on the schedule. Was he going to have a second straight 20-goal season? We’ll never know, but the odds were certainly in his favor.
In Monday’s win over the Blue Jackets, DeBrusk passed the 20-goal mark for the second time in his career with his 20th and 21st goals. It might be too late for him to crack the 30-goal plateau, but not out of the question he hits the 25-goal mark with 12 games remaining. Right now, the Bruins are getting the Jake DeBrusk that they were hoping they were going to get when they drafted him. He is jelling on the first line with Marchand and Bergeron while feeding off of them to produce some big goals at some big moments.
Following the season, there is no telling what the future holds for DeBrusk wearing the Spoked-B. He could return next season or he could be traded this offseason ahead of the NHL Draft. No one knows, but one thing is for sure, he is giving the Bruins what they need, offense and consistent shifts which could be a difference-maker come playoff time.
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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.