How do you figure out your first topic to write about for the Bruins? You take the easiest layup possible and add your input to the discussion that already exists. The twist? I think the Bruins should keep him. *gasp* Yep, I said it: keep Jake DeBrusk.
Have you Lost Your Mind About Debrusk?
Maybe, that can’t be eliminated from the discourse, but in this moment, no. Just because a player requests a trade, does not mean an organization has to trade them. In all honesty, usually, they shouldn’t trade them. If a trade is found, it will be for pennies on the dollar, loonies on the toonies for our friends up north. The last thing any organization wants to do is buy high and sell low, which is what the Bruins would be doing. There are current examples in the league of players who requested a trade, the request was not accepted, and they are still having strong seasons for their original club.
Stanley Cup-winning winger Vladimir Tarasenko is the obvious comparison. He requested a trade from St. Louis after a tense shoulder recovery and rehab process. The team did not trade him because they could not receive remotely adequate compensation for a perennial 30 goal scorer, top 6 winger. How has he responded? At the time of writing, he is averaging a point per game (15-25-40). Not half bad I would say. Winning also builds bridges. Not a lot of chatter in St. Louis or from Tarasenko’s camp about wanting a move now.
Which brings me back to DeBrusk. He wants a move because he feels like his career is stagnating. A valid concern when he is a healthy scratch or buried on the fourth line. Recently, partly out of necessity, he has been playing a more prominent role on the team. Even as a wing on Charlie Coyle’s third line, DeBrusk is playing all situations, on the second power play and on the penalty kill. He may not be producing at a top six rate as he did in his 27 goal 2018-19 season, but he is still an important contributor to this team.
For the stat fans out there, DeBrusk’s 2018-19 season included an unsustainable 17.31% shooting percentage. It is unfair to expect a player to ever match that level of puck luck. Even in both seasons around those 27 goals, 16 and 19 goal seasons, DeBrusk maintained an 11% shooting percentage. While not as jaw-dropping as 17.31%, 11% is still significantly higher than what one would expect. (For reference, Alex Ovechkin, this generation’s greatest goal scorer, has a career shooting percentage in the 12% range.) On the opposite end, DeBrusk’s 5.4% shooting percentage in 2020-21 was bound to recover.
What Does this Mean For Boston?
These numbers all go to say we have to reframe our image of Jake DeBrusk, and in all honesty, Jake DeBrusk may have to reframe his view of himself at this point in his career. Even in the best of circumstances, it is unlikely DeBrusk is a consistent 30 goal scorer. It is also very unlikely he is only a five-goal scorer.
As a 25-year-old in the NHL, DeBrusk has many years ahead of him and can continue to be valuable. It stings that a player drafted above offensive performers like Mat Barzal (NYI) and Kyle Connor (WPG) is not matching their output, but that is the nature of scouting. When you pick an 18-year-old, there are risks. The development curve is not a steady line, there will be ebbs and flows with each. DeBrusk started on a high, then regressed to the mean with a torturous drop, and now he is once again regaining form and leveling out.
DeBrusk may not be the second-line winger who can drive a line behind the perfection line, and that is okay. The Bruins now have a legitimate two-line punch. Bruce Cassidy’s decision to split up the perfection line, moving David Pastrnak to the second line with Eric Haula and Taylor Hall, while elevating Craig Smith to the Marchand-Bergeron duo, has clicked. This combination, ironically, is what had seen DeBrusk pushed further and further down the lineup. Thanks to injuries and COVID, DeBrusk was forced into more ice time, coincidentally following his trade request, and he has performed.
DeBrusk’s frustration has always centered on his ice time. With more ice time, DeBrusk has regained the trust and confidence of Bruce Cassidy. With this confidence has come the freedom to take a few more risks and try the more creative play because he knows he won’t find a seat at the end of the bench for the rest of the game. Rebuild his confidence and let the player loose.
A Future with Jake DeBrusk? Yes Please!
The Bruins have a young, two-way winger who has shown an ability to impact a game in 5-on-5 play and on special teams. He is going to be an RFA at the end of the season, but his next contract will not break the bank. DeBrusk is currently signed for $3.675 million AAV. This will likely slip, but if a deal can be had for two more years under $3.5 million, the Bruins could have a steal.
I may have my biases towards DeBrusk. I love his energy and personality, infectious smile, and have a fondness for his playoff goal against the Leafs in 2018. I want to see him succeed and I think he is a player the Bruins should continue to invest in. But, I also have the stats to back me up. Assuming we can reset expectations, not believing the Bruins are locking in a 30-goal scorer, instead of anticipating 15 to 20 goals, contributions on the penalty kill and power play, and an ability to move up the lineup to play with the offensive drivers of the team, then I absolutely see that holding DeBrusk through the end of this season is the right move.
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Vince Reilly covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Vince graduated from Grinnell College with a Bachelors in History and Political Science and earned a Masters in Sports Administration from Belmont University. He has worked in the Predators Front Office on Analytics and Operations, with Major League Baseball in Replay, and now with Tufts University as a Director of Hockey Analytics. Vince can always be found with a coffee in hand and he promises his sarcastic tone will always shine through his work.