It's hard to understate the importance of the 2021-22 NHL season for Boston Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk.
The 24-year-old left winger is entering the final year of his contract. He'll be a restricted free agent next summer. A huge year would give DeBrusk the best possible chance of landing the first long-term deal of his career.
From the Bruins' perspective, they need more consistency from DeBrusk. Scoring depth in the bottom-six has plagued the B's for the last several seasons. One way for that issue not to be a factor next season is DeBrusk being a more reliable scorer.
Where does DeBrusk stand with training camp and the preseason scheduled to begin next month?
“Right now, we’re trying to get him back on left wing,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said on WEEI's "Gresh and Keefe" show Tuesday. “He moved around from left to right, and he was OK with that last year. But at times, I don’t know if the position of left side versus right side -- more about the consistency, was what we were trying to drill down on him.
“Right now, he’ll go back on the left side, he’ll be behind (Brad Marchand) and (Taylor) Hall to start, and then the competition is on. Listen, we’ve never put a ceiling on a player. If he can pass some of those guys, great, we’ll give him more minutes. He was on the first power play a couple years ago. We felt last year (Nick) Ritchie outplayed him in that role, and then Marchy in the playoffs, so he got dropped down to the second unit.
“So, again, the ball is in his court in that way, but we’d like to give Jake -- I don’t want to say a fresh start, because he’s been here a while, he knows what the expectations are, he’s familiar with the players in the room, the coaching staff -- so we’ve just got to get him to play to his ability every night. And that’s our job as coaches, and his job as a pro who's been around a little bit is to put the onus on himself to make sure that he’s ready to go every night. He’ll have a new center this year -- sometimes that’s good, sometimes it takes a while. At the end of the day, hopefully it works out well for him.”
DeBrusk tallied 14 points (five goals, nine assists) in 41 games last season. He was even made a healthy scratch at one point. His 0.12 goals per game and 5.4 shooting percentage both were the lowest of his career.
The 2015 first-round pick has the ability to be an effective middle-six winger. DeBrusk averaged 20.67 goals over his first three seasons, and when he's engaged, his power forward style of play can be hard on opponents.
DeBrusk has all the motivation needed to have a bounce-back year in 2021-22. If he does, the Bruins' offense could be among the league's best.