NASHVILLE – Jake DeBrusk isn’t going to return to game action on the two-game Bruins road trip, but the 21-year-old is on the verge of getting back into the lineup and giving Boston their full and complete group of forwards.
DeBrusk (upper body) took part in Monday’s morning skate at Bridgestone Arena and has skated with the team over the last few days, and is on track to return for Thursday night’s home tilt against the Arizona Coyotes. DeBrusk has only missed a couple of games with the injury, but hopes that he can jump back into the lineup wielding a hot stick like he did just prior to getting hurt with two goals and five points in his last five games played.
DeBrusk is currently on injured reserve to allow the Bruins to put off a roster move until after their current road trip, but something will have to give if the B’s come out of Monday night’s game completely healthy. Matt Beleskey, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner are the most likely moveable Bruins pieces up front once DeBrusk comes off the injury list, but it remains to be seen which road the Bruins want to go down with a surplus up front.
“The players are aware of what’s going on. We’ve tried to create a healthy competition throughout the lineup. You’ve seen it at times up front where we’ve used younger guys over more established guys,” said Bruce Cassidy. “You’re starting to see it on the back end with Grzelcyk staying in there, and we’ve seen it in net. So I think [the competition] is good if it makes you better. We have good character in the room, so guys understand what we’re trying to do. It’s not personal. That’s the business side of it where you need to do your part and do it well, or there are guys pushing you.”
There is clearly risk in losing Vatrano for nothing if they expose him to waivers in order to send him to the AHL, and Spooner hasn’t been able to buck up his trade value just a few games removed from a groin injury. It would be a major organizational decision to bury Beleskey’s contract in the minor leagues despite his offensive struggles (zero points and a minus-8 in 14 games) again this season, and it doesn’t appear that the B’s are ready to go down that road yet.
It might be easy to just send Sean Kuraly or Danton Heinen to the AHL instead given that both players aren't waiver-eligible, but both players have carved out pretty solid roles on the team at this point. A trade of either Spooner or Vatrano might be a possibility, but it's unclear what kind of value either underachieving player holds in any discussions right now.
If forced into a move by DeBrusk’s return, a trip to Providence for Vatrano (two goals in 18 games) would be the most reasonable outcome for the Bruins. Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings against the Nashville Predators based on morning skate: