Bruins Have Options to Replace Jake DeBrusk on the First Line

The third period of the Winter Classic on Jan. 2 was a period that Boston Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk will not soon forget. Fourteen months after his trade request became public, a lot has happened for the 14th overall pick of the 2015 Entry Draft. He got a new contract with Boston, rescinded his trade request last summer, and has been playing the best hockey of his career the last 11 months since being elevated to the top-six, mainly on the first line.

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After finishing the 2021-22 season strong, DeBrusk has carried over his play to this season under new coach Jim Montgomery. He has been reliable all season with 16 goals and 14 assists, working hard on every shift, and he has become a valuable net-front presence on the first power play unit. Prior to scoring two third-period goals against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Fenway Park, he blocked a shot, but it did not appear to affect him. Following the game, he was spotted in a walking boot, and Wednesday (Jan. 4) it was confirmed by Montgomery that he fractured his fibula and he was placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) on Jan. 5.

Bruins Options to Replace DeBrusk

The simple fix for Montgomery to fill out his lineup is to move David Pastrnak to the top line and reunite with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, something they did at practice Wednesday (Jan. 4). He has done it during stretches in games already this season, including the third period against the Penguins at Fenway Park. The history of the trio goes back years and the results speak for themselves, but in doing so, the Bruins coach would be breaking up the second line of Pastrank, David Krejci, and Pavel Zacha, who have quickly formed a very good connection.

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If Montgomery wants to keep the Czechia line together, another move would be to bump Taylor Hall to the first line with Marchand and Bergeron. Hall has taken off this season on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic providing the Black and Gold with depth scoring from their top nine and he would provide a different element to the top line with his explosive speed and net-front presence. Again, it’s not ideal to move him from the third line, but it’s an option that could provide a different element for Marchand and Bergeron. With the way Nick Foligno has performed this season, moving the veteran up to his off-wing is another option. 

DeBrusk has been a key to the first power play unit this season and will need to be replaced there as well. Finding his replacement is not going to be easy with multiple options from the second unit. Hall or Foligno are the most logical options, but Krejci and Zacha are also options for Montgomery. Recently the Bruins’ power play has been a struggle and mixing it up now might not be the worst thing for Boston to have to do.

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

Breaking up a good thing is not ideal right now for the Bruins, but good teams are able to adjust and continue to succeed. This Bruins team is blessed with depth in their top nine and it was evident when they lost Krejci earlier this season for three games and a few moving parts, mainly with Zacha sliding into the middle on the second line, help them go 3-0-0 in Krejci’s absence. 

Bruins Recall Wagner for Trip

Boston recalled veteran forward Chris Wagner from the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) as depth for the three-game road trip. He is not being called up to replace DeBrusk on the first line, but to provide bottom-six depth. He has been down in the AHL for the last year and a half and has gone about his business as a professional while waiting for his chance to be back in the NHL. It’s a little surprising that Marc McLaughlin did not get the call-up, but Wagner is the second-best option on the fly.

Where Montgomery goes remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure with his history through the first half of this season is that there will be in-game adjustments and changes. A big reason why Boston sits atop the NHL standings at 29-4-4 is their forward depth. It has been tested before and will be tested again. The Bruins have been lucky through the first 37 games to avoid any lengthy injuries with their top forwards, but now face that adversity. Mixing and matching have been a strong point of Montgomery’s first season behind the bench and Boston will need to be flexible again until their second-leading goal scorer returns.

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