BOSTON – The overwhelming chatter leading up to Saturday night’s game vs. the Islanders was about electric rookie playmaker Mathew Barzal, and the fact that the Bruins passed on him in the 2015 NHL Draft with their three consecutive picks. Only time will tell if the Bruins played it correctly, whiffed badly, or made the right choice by passing on the forward. There won’t be a final resolution until a good 5-10 years have gone by for respective careers of Barzal, Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn.
But DeBrusk stepped up and made a huge statement about his own game in a 3-1 win over the Islanders on Saturday night, when the 21-year-old left winger scored the game-winning goal. He also stepped up and courageously tangled with Casey Cizikas after the Islanders energy guy threw a big hit on Charlie McAvoy.
DeBrusk was slapped with an instigator penalty good for 17 penalty minutes that seemed ridiculous given that the rookie waited for Cizikas to drop the gloves before engaging in the fight, but he rookie was able to make light of it after the game.
“The fight? Well, I mean a fight’s a fight. I think I had zero penalty minutes coming in and now I have 17. So, it’s kind of funny that way,” said DeBrusk, who is now on pace for a solid 19 goals and 45 points this season. “It’s a big night; it’s kind of funny that way, but no, it was just more so standing up for a teammate. I thought it was a clean hit. I didn’t think it was dirty, but just heat of the moment.”
DeBrusk was close to finishing off a nice setup with David Krejci in the third period, close to earning himself a Gordie Howe hat trick. Saturday night served as a showcase for DeBrusk’s talent, strong character and makeup, and the variety of reasons he’s going to be just fine with the Bruins. Sure, he might not land as many points as Barzal has at the end of the season, but DeBrusk is looking like a pretty good player himself.
DeBrusk has been showcasing why he’s a perfect fit for this particular hockey club now, and that’s really the most important thing.
“I think it’s good for his teammates to know that he’s going to get in there, whether people think it’s right or wrong,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He’s in there looking after one of his teammates, so guys appreciate that. In the playoffs the discipline level goes up a lot and obviously the regular season you need your level of discipline, but at that time and juncture in the game, I think everyone’s fine with [DeBrusk sticking up for his teammate] and it will help him in the room."
“I think it was written that there [should have been] a certain player drafted ahead of him, so I think he took it upon himself to maybe show that he’s here for a reason, he’s a good player in his own right, and he was pretty excited about it. Good for him; he’s a young guy and we like that excitement level out of those young guys.”
Despite spending 17 total minutes in the box, DeBrusk would net his sixth goal of the year. He jumped out of the box after serving his time, and managed to score on his first post-fight shift with a shot at the net from the high slot area. It was, on one hand, a resounding bit of karmic glory from the Hockey Gods after doing the right thing standing up for one of his teammates. It was also a great display of character and poise from a young winger that immediately responding with production after lengthy penalty time.
“I thought it was great to see him stepping up for Chuckie [Charlie McAvoy] there and then getting that goal. He was in the penalty box for a while and sometimes your legs can get stiff and cold, and he didn’t miss a beat,” said Patrice Bergeron. “Then he was ready for when I guess he got a tap on the back, and came back on the ice. It was a huge goal for us. We needed that. So kudos to him for stepping up and making those two big plays [when the B’s needed him].”
The simple truth when it comes to DeBrusk is that he’s the best, and most advanced, of the three players selected by the Bruins in the middle of the 2015 NHL Draft. The young forward looks like he’s going to be in the NHL for a long time. There is no revisionist history with Bruins fans wanting Barzal rather than DeBrusk with the 14th overall pick because that was never really the case. This entire situation is unfortunately more about 15th overall pick Zach Senyshyn as he slowly gathers experience in Providence, and faces lingering questions about whether he’ll ever be better than Barzal, Kyle Connor, Travis Konecny, Brock Boeser, Colin White or any number of talented players selected right after him in the draft.
Right now DeBrusk looks like the surest Bruins bet for a long NHL career between the three 2015 first round picks, and he backed that up with the kind of scoring, tough game Bruins fans will learn to love very, very quickly.