Bruins

20 Under 25 Candidates: Jake DeBrusk turning into a big-game player

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

20 Under 25 Candidates: Jake DeBrusk turning into a big-game player

It’s more than three years after the NHL Draft when the Bruins famously made three consecutive picks in the middle of the first round. Three-plus years later, it’s 22-year-old winger Jake DeBrusk as the only one of the three picks who has established himself at the NHL level and played his way into the long-term future for the Bruins.

That certainly says something about DeBrusk just as it says something about the other two players -- Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn -- taken in that first round.  

DeBrusk finished with a strong, steady 16 goals and 43 points in 70 games for the Bruins while manning the left wing beside David Krejci as a rookie, and stepped up even more in the playoffs as a go-to goal scorer in the Toronto series behind the big three of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. DeBrusk is an interesting mix as a player: none of his skills really jump out at you, but he’s strong, fast and smart with a good, accurate shot, and that package comes along with very clearly being a big game player.

At the beginning of December, DeBrusk actually ranked second on the Bruins in goals behind only Pastrnak and ahead of the injured Bergeron and the snake-bitten Marchand. He continues to show the requisite offensive skill along with the willingness to go to the danger areas that could make him a perennial 20-goal scorer, and both his ideal makeup and strong character as a person make him somebody the Bruins will want as a part of their long-term picture.

Will DeBrusk ever be an All-Star at the NHL level or even reach the 30-goal plateau that separates the good players from the potentially great ones?

It might never be the case, as DeBrusk feels like a player capable of something in the 20-goal/50-point range when he reaches his maximum potential, but that’s plenty good enough for the Black and Gold after selecting him in the middle of the first round three years ago. DeBrusk is in the NHL and playing well just like so many other talented players taken in the first round of that loaded 2015 NHL Draft, and he’ll be in Boston for years to come as a gritty, productive top-6 winger. 

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Joakim Nordstrom (foot) makes his on-ice camp debut for the Bruins

Joakim Nordstrom (foot) makes his on-ice camp debut for the Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins added some healthy bodies to their training camp group on Saturday as both Joakim Nordstrom and Trent Frederic (lower body) were added to the mix in Group A that practiced in the morning at Warrior Ice Arena.

Nordstrom fractured his foot at the end of the Stanley Cup Final and spent the entire summer rehabbing and healing from the injury, and sat out Friday’s on-ice opener before jumping on a day later. The return of Nordstrom and Frederic means that Patrice Bergeron (groin), Kevan Miller (fractured kneecap), John Moore (shoulder surgery) and Cameron Hughes (facial injury) remain off the ice with No. 37 closing in on a return as he skates on his own ahead of the main training camp groups.

The 27-year-old Nordstrom is coming off a strong season for the Black and Gold where he finished with seven goals and 12 points in 70 games, and used his versatility and gritty two-way game to help out in many spots along with a regular role on the penalty kill. He’s looking at another season with plenty of bottom-6 opportunities and Nordstrom is hoping to take advantage just as he did in a very effective first season in Boston.

“I felt good. It was fun to be back out there,” said Nordstrom. “It was step one for me today being back with the group. Hopefully I wake up tomorrow and I’m still feeling good. It was difficult not being able to work out and prepare as you want, but it is what it is. I came back [to Boston] fairly early to do whatever I needed to do to be ready.

“I felt pretty good throughout the season. Toward the end I had better production than earlier on, I played with the same players for a time there and I think confidence plays a role.”

Here are the line combos and D-pairings from the second day of Bruins training camp:

Group A

Bjork-Coyle-Ritchie

Marchand-Studnicka-Senyshyn

Carey-Shen-Pastrnak

Cehlarik-Steen-Koppanen/Lantosi

D-PAIRINGS

Krug-Kampfer

Zboril-Breen

Vaakanainen-Petrovic/Zech

GOALIES

Rask Keyser Vladar

Group B

DeBrusk-Krejci-Kuhlman

Blidh-Kuraly-Backes

Fitzgerald-Gaunce-Heinen

Lauko-Lindholm-Wagner

Nordstrom-Frederic-Asselin

D-PAIRINGS

Chara-Andersson

Grzelcyk-Didier

Lauzon-Clifton

Sherman

GOALIES

Halak Lagace

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David Backes plans on going 'balls to the wall' to hold on to NHL spot with Bruins

David Backes plans on going 'balls to the wall' to hold on to NHL spot with Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – David Backes enters into Bruins training camp this season with the highest level of uncertainty since he signed on with the Black and Gold more than three years ago.

The 35-year-old produced career lows with his seven goals and 20 points in 70 games and then was a healthy scratch for the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final against his old St. Louis Blues team after some good moments in Boston’s postseason run. There was speculation he could be bought out of the final two years of his contract this summer and certainly, the Bruins would have traded Backes and his contract if they could have made it work.

There were also questions about Backes’ health after the Bruins made mention of a nagging issue this summer that was never fully explained, and led to questions as to whether he’d even be healthy for camp.

Still, Backes was never asked to waive his limited no-trade protection and No. 42 is here at camp and on the ice banging bodies and working his way through drills. It’s exactly what the B’s power forward intends to do while facing some stiff competition at right wing with Brett Ritchie brought in to basically fill the same NHL job description.

“[The offseason workout program] was as intense as it’s ever been. I’m looking forward to going out there and playing hockey this year,” said Backes, who has skated on the right wing with Sean Kuraly and Anton Blidh in the first two days of camp. “I channeled some of [last season’s frustration], I festered some of it away and let it motivate me and I can focus some on what I can do as an athlete having a great summer so I can do what I do best, which is to play the game.

“I don’t worry about other decisions that I don’t get to make and that are out of my control. What’s in my control is each shift, each play and each moment. That’s what I’m going to focus on all year. That moment and that drill will be my focus, and decisions out of my control will be made. It’s balls to the wall starting with the first drill of practice and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got until they tell that I’m done playing. That’s the way I’ve always been.”

So, what might happen to Backes?

He certainly could wind up in the AHL with Providence if he’s caught in a numbers game in Boston and shows that he simply can’t keep up with the pace of the NHL game anymore. There were moments where that seemed to be the case last season, but Backes will get a chance to show he can still play and further fill his role late last season when he dropped the gloves a little more often to protect his teammates.

That’s essentially what Bruce Cassidy wants to see out of Backes in camp, and it may be enough to keep him up with Boston given his leadership, toughness and the wide respect he garners in the dressing room.

“We had a conversation over the summer, a little bit [about] how the year ended. I don’t think we wanted to do it two days after Game 7. I think we were all a little bit raw for obvious reasons. We talked a little bit about my decision,” said Cassidy. “I thought [Karson Kuhlman] added a little more pep to our game and a different element than David, right or wrong. We revisited a little bit of what he could do to stay in the lineup this year and what’s ahead.

“It’s hard to predict what’s ahead. [Par] Lindholm and Brett Ritchie, they’re going to compete. Ritchie happens to play the same position as Backes. We’ll see what kind of advances Kuhlman has made. So, the message to David was ‘there’s competition on that side of the ice, but if he gets back to the level we feel he can get to, then he’ll have a spot.’ How much ice he gets from there? That’s going to depend on the growth of some players and the chemistry involved.”

There’s a great deal of unknown with Backes at this point based on the new faces he’s competing with and based on exactly what he can show at 35 at this stage of his career. It’s certainly not his fault that he’s taking up a $6 million salary-cap hit on a team that’s scraping for space to sign Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo.

What is up to Backes is his willingness to do whatever it takes to hold on to his NHL gig with a 6-foot-3, 215-pound body that’s starting to show signs of age and wear after nearly 1,000 games in an excellent career in St. Louis and Boston.

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