It’s certainly going to be an interesting season for Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk, but he’s expected to start this season with a clean slate for the Black and Gold.
The 24-year-old DeBrusk is coming off the absolute low point of his NHL career with five goals and 14 points in 41 games following by three points in 10 playoff games with a minus-3 rating. He was dropped from his second line left wing spot with David Krejci and eventually replaced by Taylor Hall at the trade deadline and forced to play his “off” right side for much of the season.
Mix in the isolating COVID-19 protocols that left him home alone for much of the regular season away from his teammates, friends and family, and it left him admitting “my haters had a lot to say this year” after the season was over.
It was tough to watch an amiable, good-natured Edmonton kid like DeBrusk go through the personal and professional struggles, to be sure. But the hope is that this offseason will help DeBrusk hit the reset button and that the eased COVID-19 restrictions for this season will allow him to be in a better frame of mind.
It was exactly these things that DeBrusk and Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy discussed after getting together this summer to get on the same page.
“He stayed in the Boston area for a while and then he went back to Edmonton. So we had a good talk about some of the things that didn’t allow him to be at the top of his game away from the rink,” said Cassidy of DeBrusk, who has had a hard time living up to his 27-goal season from a few years ago. “Some people, with the COVID protocols, it affects people differently what they can and can’t do. Jake was one of those guys being by himself that it was a little tougher on him. We discussed some of those things and how we could help as a staff, and how it was probably on both of us about how we could reach out a little bit more.
“In today’s game with today’s athlete there has to be a little bit more of that [open communication] and so we both held ourselves accountable in that regard making the lines of communication better, and that may bleed into the on-ice performance taking care of itself. At the end of the day the message remains the same about how [DeBrusk] can help the Bruins win. That’s what we ask of every player. Those are a couple of areas we touched on off the ice, and then on the ice with the expectations. Jake looks like he’s ready to go and it looks like he’ll have some new linemates. With [Erik] Haula being here and with Krejci gone, he played with [Krejci] a lot. He’ll have to find some chemistry if it ends up being Haula in the middle, but at the end of the day the message remains the same, ‘Be the best version of yourself that you can be.’ [If a player does that] the ice time will take care of itself, and you’ll compliment anybody.”
Certainly, it sounds like Cassidy is penciling DeBrusk in as the third line winger for Erik Haula at the outset of training camp, but it feels like there are a great many moveable pieces amongst Boston’s bottom-6 group of forwards.
As Cassidy alluded to at the end of his thoughts, DeBrusk will need to do his part on the ice. That means not only generating offense and scoring goals, but playing hard, two-way, winning hockey while developing his game away from the puck. DeBrusk has always struggled to be a factor in games when the goals aren’t coming for him and that remains the case with four Boston Bruins seasons under his belt. At a certain point it’s no longer about projecting what a player will be as much as accepting who a hockey player is, and DeBrusk is quickly getting to that point entering his mid-20’s and his fifth NHL campaign.