BOSTON – Boston Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk was entering a major crossroads in his NHL career going into this season with the Black and Gold.
The 25-year-old DeBrusk was coming off a very down season with just five goals scored while getting pushed out of his second line left wing spot when the B’s traded for Taylor Hall at the end of last season. He was getting pushed to his off wing, served as a healthy scratch at times and was the subject of trade rumors in the offseason.
There was no trade and DeBrusk was protected in the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, so it’s clear the Bruins aren’t ready to give up on the first round talent quite yet.
This is the season where DeBrusk would either continue with some of the bad habits that have crept into his game or show signs of the guy that scored 27 goals for the B’s just three short seasons ago. The early signs are good that DeBrusk, free of the heavy COVID-19 restrictions that put a drag on his life last season and buoyed by a new role on a new-look third line, is ready to make a step forward when really that’s the only choice for him.
DeBrusk scored the game-winner in Boston’s 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars on opening night at TD Garden on Saturday and did it by buzzing around the net and beating Roope Hintz to a loose puck rattling around the post.
Celly szn is back.
Jake DeBrusk is on the board. pic.twitter.com/wLVVl6hccn
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) October 17, 2021
“You obviously want to get on the board as fast as possible, and it seems like the mindset is working for what’s going on with our line,” said DeBrusk. “It was nice to score in front of a full TD Garden.”
This came after DeBrusk drove hard to the net earlier in the game on a rugged chance that was denied by Holtby as one of his four shot attempts in 13 minutes of ice time in an impressive debut for DeBrusk-Erik Haula-Nick Foligno.
One of the knocks on DeBrusk in the previous few seasons was a lack of grit and second effort in his game as he scoured for scoring chances, but it’s clear now, in both the preseason and now the regular season, that the 25-year-old is getting hungrier around the net. He’s consistently shown net-drive using his speed and power that’s always been there for the 6-foot, 190-pounder, and it’s clearly not by accident.
“It’s definitely a focus. That’s where I’ve scored all my goals throughout my career and even my life,” said DeBrusk, who has potted 68 of them in his five season NHL career. “I’m good in front of the net. Obviously, a lot of the right things have to happen and you need some bounces as well, but I’ve just been trying to force the issue of trying to get there. Not necessarily just stand in front of the net, but [to also] push the pace to attack. It’s all about an attack mentality right now.”
Clearly, we’ve all seen these kinds of flashes with DeBrusk before. He’s a player that’s been prone to hot streaks, and even last season there were singular games when he dominated while playing like he was proving a point. The key now is consistency to his game, being a factor even when he’s not lighting the lamp and being a factor with his speed and tenacity like in his first couple of NHL seasons.
The two registered hits in Saturday’s opener were actually a good sign that DeBrusk is ready to add a little more sandpaper to his game.
The Boston Bruins are encouraged that DeBrusk has truly hit the refresh button this season and that things are trending in the right direction.
“I think it’s good for the group. When Jake is in a good place he’s got personality, he’s a good kid and he’s good for our locker room,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Part of being in a good place is feeling good about your game and he should after [opening night].
“Part of his game is driving wide. [DeBrusk] did it. [Nick Foligno] did it. That line will be hard to play against if they’re attacking like that. It’s just good for our team. And if we play that way and put some pressure on [the opponent] it’s going to pay off.”
There are a couple things that can’t be understated when it comes to DeBrusk’s early season turnaround. One is the simple return of the happy-go-lucky Edmonton kid that’s always to live his life as a pro hockey player with a little more freedom this season after struggling as a single 20-something in Boston living in harsh COVID restrictions last season.
The other is the influence of another son of an NHL player, Nick Foligno, who in some ways has taken DeBrusk under his wing early this season. One can almost see the influence of Foligno on DeBrusk’s renewed focus on net-drive, getting to the scoring areas and paying the price for the goals that he’s going to score this season.
“I’ve talked to him a little bit. I can tell he has a ton of potential and a ton of talent, and he wants to be a great player. I think it’s just a matter of understanding what that takes,” said Foligno, of DeBrusk a few weeks back in the middle of training camp. “A lot of times people think it’s just a snap of the fingers and a guy figures it out. Sometimes it takes a little bit of a step back to realize, ‘OK, that’s not the way I want to go about doing things.’ I’m sure he’s hungry to prove to people that he’s the player we all envision and that he envisions.
“He has higher standards for himself than a lot of people realize. I’m looking forward to helping him in that regard, but also just helping the line and maybe helping him become that player. I think he’s put in the work, and he looks good out there. Just excited to get going.”
All signs point toward this being a renaissance season for DeBrusk, and that’s something the Boston Bruins could sorely need at this point. But we’ve all seen the short bursts from DeBrusk in the last couple of seasons without the long, concerted follow-up that begats success and consistency at the NHL level.
Consistency is the key for him.
“I pretty much bury [the negative moments] and the good moments as well because I have had highs here as well,” said DeBrusk. “I’m taking every day day-to-day, and I think simpler is better for the mind for me. It’s a fresh start and every year is a new start with new linemates, new [COVID] restrictions…everything is new. It feels like it’s back to the NHL again and that’s why I love playing the game. This is why you work hard your life to get the privilege to play in this league, and I’m very grateful to do it.”
Maybe, just maybe, DeBrusk will finally hit that mark as a 25-year-old in the prime of his NHL career because now is the time for him to push his way back into the long-term picture for this young, core group of Boston Bruins.