BOSTON – There’s little doubt it’s going to be an eventful offseason for Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk after a season he even admits was “disappointing.”
The 24-year-old DeBrusk finished with five goals and 14 points in 41 games as he was dropped from his second line left wing spot and eventually replaced by Taylor Hall, and he was bounced all around the lineup while also being a healthy scratch at times during the regular season and the playoffs. DeBrusk had a strong start to the playoffs with goals in each of his first two games against the Capitals, but then he managed just a single point the rest of the way while sinking back into play that had little impact in any way on the ice.
It was a sharp contrast to Mat Barzal, the player selected directly after him by the Islanders in the 2015 NHL draft that had a major impact on the playoff series win over the Black and Gold. It’s the same story with DeBrusk, who really doesn’t contribute much as a one-dimensional winger when the scoring runs dry.
Certainly, it was a trying season both on and off the ice for a young player that endured his worst NHL season just a few years removed from scoring 27 goals and had to push through league COVID restrictions that kept him, a single guy in his 20’s with no family to come home to after hockey, on lockdown pretty much all season.
DeBrusk admitted all of the above when chatting with the Bruins media via zoom on Friday and vowed that things will be different next season.
“I need to revamp some stuff. There were a lot of factors that went into this year. Things that I could control and [things that I] couldn’t control. I dealt with a lot of negativity as well. It’s one of those things that it’s something you have to learn, as you sign up. I’m a big boy, I can handle that, just became a little bit of an easy target,” said DeBrusk, who has dipped from 27 goals to 19 goals two seasons ago and then to five goals last season. “My haters had a lot to say this year. It’s one of those things where, like I said, just have to revamp some things with training and different mindset.
“My mindset is an interesting place right now. Every year it’s obviously different, disappointing obviously while hopes were high. I’ve disappointed myself, and my team. I’m looking forward to this [coming] year, I’ve got to prove a lot of people wrong.”
It remains to be seen, though, if it’s going to be with the Bruins. DeBrusk is part of a middle tier group of Bruins players that didn’t do enough in the postseason behind Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron firing on all cylinders during both playoff rounds. It’s clear the Boston Bruins still need to improve their forward depth beyond their top line and DeBrusk is one of those guys that simply hasn’t been a difference-maker nearly enough.
There’s an upcoming NHL expansion draft for the Seattle Kraken where the Bruins could leave DeBrusk unprotected. He’s really become a man without a position in Boston where the Bruins seem comfortable having Brad Marchand, Taylor Hall and Nick Ritchie as the top three wings on the left. DeBrusk was forced to play right wing most of the time this season as a result, but that isn’t really a natural fit for a player that seems more comfortable on his strong side.
There’s also going to be an incredibly active trade market once things get moving in the offseason, and DeBrusk could be a chip for the Boston Bruins. He’s still a former first round pick with speed, skill and strong NHL bloodlines, so there will be organizations looking at DeBrusk as a prime candidate for a fresh start elsewhere. There’s really no telling how much of a factor the stringent NHL protocols were in the struggles for a young guy like DeBrusk.
“This year was difficult. Obviously learned a lot, how to deal with COVID and all the things that come with it. I feel like everyone in the world can say the same thing. Coming home after road trips and stuff like that, day to day. I mean, isolation is the cute word everyone likes to use,” said DeBrusk. “I think I talked about a little bit earlier in the year, to be honest with you. It was difficult, I wasn’t able to see my family. It was one of those things where it was just hockey all the time.
“[It] wasn’t that great of a year. Like I said, I learned a lot and how to deal with that. It was just starting to get open and going [in Boston], so it was disappointing that we ended around this time. It’s exciting and still a positive side to see that life’s getting a little bit normal here.”
All that being said, DeBrusk was having issues with healthy scratches and being a consistent impact player even before COVID came on the scene a couple of seasons ago. It wouldn’t surprise anybody if DeBrusk is playing for a different team next season based on all circumstances, but either way he’s going to need to be a lot better next season if he wants to stick around the league.
It certainly doesn’t take a “hater” to see that, and it sounds like DeBrusk knows it to be true as well.