It would appear Jake DeBrusk’s two-year contract also came with some specific instructions for his next level of development with the Boston Bruins.
The 24-year-old left winger signed a two-year deal worth $3.675 million per season that will keep him around Boston, and will leave him in an excellent spot as an RFA with arbitration rights and a $4 million qualifying offer. Clearly the excitable young kid from Edmonton was pumped about it.
But it all comes with a challenge over the next few years to augment his game, develop in hard-edged areas other than the goal-scoring department and become more of a consistent, all-around impact player on the ice.
The numbers are certainly solid right now with DeBrusk averaging 20 goals per season since entering the league, with a high of 27 goals a year ago when it looked like his game was about to really take off. But DeBrusk was merely okay last season with 19 goals and 35 points in 65 games, and he was dead last on the team with a paltry 35 hits in 65 games.
Some fancy stats people would chalk that up to always having the puck, but that was definitely not the case with DeBrusk.
The only other regular B’s skater in his range was Danton Heinen with 33 hits in 58 games, and he was moved along at the trade deadline to the Anaheim Ducks. Perhaps some of the message to DeBrusk was that the same fate might await him if he doesn’t step up the intensity level and compete harder for pucks.
“That’s my main focus. There is pretty much a glaring aspect of my game that was [missing] last year. I don’t think it was necessarily [missing] my first year. Obviously, throughout this whole process, I’ve looked at pretty much every single stat you can find. I looked at some things and to be able to see that is obviously easy to change,” said DeBrusk. “There’s no reason why I can’t have a hit per game. That goes hand in hand with the forechecking.
“I think that that’s been a main focus of mine. I’m not saying I’m going to be running around out there, but obviously, I could finish checks more. That’s usually how I play. That’s how I’ve been known to play. It just didn’t really happen much this year, and it’s one thing I felt like it affected my game a lot.”
Don Sweeney discussed adding penalty killing to DeBrusk’s overall game when talking about the new deal with the Boston Bruins on Monday night. A return to hard fore-checking and aggressive play would certainly be a boon for both DeBrusk and for the Bruins, and would allow him to get back to the improvement path he was on in his first two NHL campaigns.
“I think Jake has a chance to continue to expand his game. He has an innate ability to score goals. Some guys take three chances, Jake might only take one, and he can finish. I think that’s been proven over the course of his career so far,” said Sweeney. “For the speed Jake brings to the table, there’s no reason why Jake can’t kill penalties. There’s no reason that Jake can be an even better net-front presence this year, where he scored a bunch of goals this year but also missed opportunities.
“That’s that inside presence, that ability to get inside the dots with consistency. Being a little more of a threat on a forecheck as an F1. With his speed, his abilities that he has and the talents, I think there is another lever or two that Jake can get to.”
Speaking to DeBrusk’s net-front presence, he has just two points in 10 playoff games against the Lightning over the last two playoff series against them. He is very clearly one of the key players they need to step up against their arch-rival if they hope to beat Tampa Bay in future playoff match-ups, so perhaps he’ll get that chance again over the next two seasons.
It’s interesting to dissect why exactly DeBrusk shied away from the flashes of physicality that were there more at the start of his Bruins career. Certainly one might expect more of that from the son of NHL tough guy Louie DeBrusk.
Some of it could have been a preoccupation with goal-scoring after nearly hitting 30 goals in his second year, and some of it might also have been related to a suspected concussion suffered in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs during an altercation with then-Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri.
Whatever the case, it’s clearly been message sent and received for DeBrusk.
“I’ve been focusing [in the offseason] on probably just my physical side of the game. I think I’ve put on some weight already and have really been attacking just getting stronger overall. [I want] more balance on the ice, and also just little details within my game that then help the ups and downs,” said DeBrusk. “I think that’s the kind of the thing that everyone likes to talk about, so it’s been obviously a big focus of mine. Obviously, still trying to work on speed and still trying to be faster, I guess. But, definitely, the physical side of things with the wear and tear of the season and the playoffs as well.
“I’m one of the fastest guys on the teams and when I’m playing well, I’m skating. I could definitely put more pressure on D-men and be more physical in those corners too. It’s not necessarily the right idea if I’m not pushing the pace of play and pushing the forecheck. Obviously, just getting my stick in there. I feel like I have a decent stick already once I do get in there. I agree with him, just kind of just disrupting plays, disrupting breakouts and it can cause turnovers and obviously can create chaos around the net. I think it actually just goes hand in hand with my game. It’s not necessarily thinking differently. It’s just more, being fully aggressive. Just going all out, all the time is kind of what that means.”
DeBrusk going “all out, all the time” is exactly the kind of player that could be a difference-maker for the Bruins, and would set himself up for that bigger contract that he missed out on this time around. The proof will be in his actual playing once games are played again, but it looks like DeBrusk fully understands where his game needs to go.
And that’s half the battle with a player like DeBrusk that clearly brings first round skills to the table every time he laces them up for the Boston Bruins.