It’s hard to believe sometimes that less than a year ago Jake DeBrusk no longer wanted to be a part of the Boston Bruins.
It wasn’t because he disliked his teammates or no longer enjoyed the city of Boston, of course. Instead, it’s fairly easy to see that, fair or unfair, DeBrusk chafed under the former Boston Bruins coaching staff, and he wasn’t alone in that regard.
With a fresh start and under new head coach Jim Montgomery, Jake DeBrusk fought his way back into Monday night’s lineup from an injury and potted a pair of goals while playing impact hockey all over the ice in a 5-3 win for the Bruins over the Florida Panthers at TD Garden. DeBrusk finished with the two goals while opening and closing the scoring for the Black and Gold, and finished with three points, a plus-4 rating and 10 shot attempts in 18:51 of ice time while playing with speed, tenacity and hardness on pucks that isn’t always there in his low points during the season.
Perhaps those low points will be few and far between this season, a development that DeBrusk himself pointed out on his 26th birthday at an age where he’s becoming a fully formed NHL player.
“It’s been different, and obviously it is with a new coach and just seeing the boys again and just feeling secure obviously after everything last year,” said DeBrusk, who has 25 goals and 42 points in 77 games last season to build on this year. “I think that’s one thing that helped me at the end of last year was that kind of feeling again.
“It just kind of went on throughout the summer and obviously got confidence back in my own game. Just trying to do anything I can to help get wins for this team. Obviously, the big guys out and things like that, we need everybody hands on deck, and I just want to be part of that.”
It was a bit of a surprise that DeBrusk was able to play after testing out his injury, but it speaks to a player that’s making a good impression on a new coaching staff while accepting the responsibility that comes with being one of the team’s best players in a top-6 role.
“I was shocked by how smart of a player he is and his ability to make plays,” said Montgomery of DeBrusk. “I knew he could score goals and I knew he could skate, but I didn’t know he could make as many plays as he does. I think his all-around game is continuing to develop. He was hard on pucks, he was hard on coming back to our end, and he’s one of our best penalty killers.”
Certainly, it was all on display Monday night as DeBrusk’s speed and refusal to give up on a play allowed him to score just 21 seconds into the game, a tone-setter in a big divisional game between undefeated teams. Then it was DeBrusk again midway through the second period using his speed to create a transition play before spinning and firing a pass to open space at the net that Patrice Bergeron was able to bury a go-ahead goal.
JAKE DEBRUSK IS UNSTOPPABLE ON HIS BIRTHDAY pic.twitter.com/d1INMeCQN3
— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) October 18, 2022
Then DeBrusk iced the game with the empty netter in the final minutes as Florida attempted to mount a comeback, once again utilizing his skating speed to finish off a chance.
“Even the play on the empty-net goal, a lot of people don’t know how to protect that puck, spin around and find that lane,” said Montgomery. “His hockey sense and how he sees the ice is well above the average hockey player in the NHL and it’s something well above what I thought he processed. I thought he was a speed-scoring winger, but he’s much more than that.”
It isn’t just DeBrusk playing free and easy hockey these days with a new voice behind the bench, though.
Connor Clifton looks like a different player with four assists in three games while averaging 23:51 of ice time, and bottom-6 players like Trent Frederic and Nick Foligno are playing with passionate purpose while adding important secondary production.
It speaks to the Boston Bruins making the right move with the offseason coaching change, even if Bruce Cassidy is a quality NHL coach that will enjoy success in Vegas with the Golden Knights. Certainly, things feel a lot lighter with players like DeBrusk and Clifton even if the true test won’t be until adversity hits during the regular season.
“It’s one thing to do it for one game, but what do we got, 79 [games] left? So, it’s a challenge [Tuesday] against a good Ottawa team and just keep on rolling from there,” said DeBrusk. “You’re not going to have three-point nights every night, two goals and an assist. I would love that – I think everybody would.
“But I think the speed aspect of my game has always been the thing that drives everything, whether it’s generating chances – and you need some lucky bounces, you need some help and things like that, but I think that’s kind of a good starting point to obviously start like that. It’s one of those things that you kind of just try to build on. It’s nice to have a good start and just kind of move from there.”
The question is whether this is more than simply a good start for DeBrusk. Could it be the beginning of another phase to his career where he matures into something greater than he’s been to this point as he hits the prime years of his professional hockey career?
It all remains to be seen but the start is a promising one for a Boston Bruins team that looks better than many people assumed they would be headed into this season.