All the Boston Bruins want from Jake DeBrusk is all he can give. To this point, the team does not believe DeBrusk has given that and it appears what the 24-year-old winger – who the Boston Bruins drafted 14th overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft – does for the rest of the season could determine his future with the Bruins.
DeBrusk returned to the Bruins lineup Saturday after being a healthy scratch for the previous two games. DeBrusk hit a crossbar but did not score or register a point in the Bruins’ 6-2 win over the Buffalo Sabres. He played 16:53 with 16 seconds of that on the powerplay and 1:37 on the penalty kill.
“Jake’s been on a lot of lines,” Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy replied postgame when asked about his performance Saturday and whether playing on a grinding line with Curtis Lazar and Karson Kuhlman can jumpstart his game. “He’s been given an opportunity with almost every center-iceman here, don’t forget he was in with [Patrice Bergeron] and [Brad Marchand], they play straight line so it falls on him to play the game that’s in front of him. I’ve said it before, to me it’s a second effort league and if he’s willing to do that, he’ll have success in this league.”
Prior to the game, Cassidy seemingly pleaded to DeBrusk to finally take his game to the next level and be the player the Bruins believe he can still be.
“Hopefully Jake, a little time away, have some time to watch up top sometimes players take (something away) from that,” Cassidy said when asked what he was expecting from DeBrusk after his third healthy scratch of the season. “Other times, it doesn’t happen that way. So we just want him to be grateful for his spot in the lineup, just help us win, Jake. Get out there and play to your strengths and we’ll coach you up on the things that you need to get better on. Just be one of 20 guys to help us win.”
DeBrusk now has four goals and 11 points in 35 games this season and just one goal in his last 14 games. As Cassidy pointed out, scratching DeBrusk hasn’t been the only way they’ve tried to wake DeBrusk out of a season-long funk that no doubt was affected by two stints on the NHL COVID Protocol list.
“I’m not going to say there’s a blueprint, everyone’s different,” Cassidy said. “But (the messaging usually starts with) minutes, it’s video, it’s talking to him on the bench, it’s challenging the player. And then it becomes, the one thing every player likes is playing time, so then you start taking some of that away. Responsibility, maybe it’s off the power play or penalty kill, whatever it is. … so less minutes. Then it becomes no minutes, you’re upstairs, and now we’re at the point where there’s only so much you can do to get the message across that you need better whatever it is you’re looking for.”
The biggest ask of DeBrusk right now, and it seemingly isn’t an unreasonable one, is for him to not give up on plays. Whether it leads to a goal or not, the Bruins just want DeBrusk to keep pushing.
“In our case, and we’ve said this, we need better second effort,” Cassidy said. “In forecheck situations and puck recovery situations and attack situations, because I feel it’s a second effort league. The guys that have the second effort will have much more success in this league the sooner they figure that out. …you need to have that second effort, that’s always been the message for the most part with Jake and it continues to be. So hopefully he takes advantage of it, his situation today, and gives us a little more of that, and grows his game. That’s the message as clear as I can make it, that’s been told to Jake it’s been told to other players as well that don’t get into the lineup every day.”