Boston Bruins left winger Jake DeBrusk has been one of the most disappointing players in the NHL this season.
After a lackluster end to the 2019-20 regular season and Stanley Cup Playoffs, the 24-year-old forward signed a two-year contract with the B's over the offseason. It gave him a raise, plus an opportunity to take his game to a higher level and enter free agency in 2022 with a chance to earn a much larger payday.
Instead of improving, DeBrusk's game has actually taken a step back in 2021.
He has scored only one goal with four assists in 17 games. DeBrusk is on a seven-game goalless drought, and he won't have a chance to end it Tuesday night when the Bruins play the first-place New York Islanders on the road.
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That's because B's head coach Bruce Cassidy is making DeBrusk a healthy scratch, and he gave a candid assessment of the top-six forward's play and effort this season during a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday.
"Well, we've tried different angles with Jake," Cassidy explained. "He's met 1-on-1 with myself, he's met 1-on-1 with the coaches, Joe (Sacco) and Jay (Pandolfo). ... He's talked with some of the veteran guys. At the end of the day, we're not quite getting out of Jake what we want. Some of that is circumstance and situational. He's moved around, he's been hurt, his center had been hurt.
"But I still feel he's been given ice time to perform to the best of his ability. We just feel we're not getting the effort required. It's not always about the score sheet. It's about being one of 20 guys helping you win. Some nights it's there, some nights it's not. We tried different messaging with the player, and sometimes sitting upstairs and taking a look is not a bad way to go and put a different perspective on it and have a better appreciation for being in there. And then maybe educating yourself on some things you see from up top that look a little easier than during live action.
"At the end of the day, he's not the first person that's been scratched and he won't be the last, but we want to make him a better player in the long run, and this is the avenue we're going to take today. We'll sort it out on Thursday when the Rangers are in town."
It's not like DeBrusk has been without chances to score. His 14:49 of average ice time per game is only about a minute less than his career mark. And, as the following tweet explains, he's been given plenty of offensive zone starts.
DeBrusk also has been struggling mightily during 5-on-5 play, where the Bruins as a team rank 27th out of 31 teams in goals scored.
What's next for the Bruins in the short term?
It looks like Jack Studnicka will play right wing with David Krejci and Nick Ritchie on the second line Tuesday night. Studnicka is Boston's best prospect and a natural centerman, but he's capable of playing on the wing as well. He needs more playing time to develop at the NHL level, and this is a great opportunity for him.
What does the future hold for the DeBrusk?
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The trade deadline is April 12, so there's plenty of time for him to turn around his season before that point. It doesn't make too much sense for the Bruins to trade DeBrusk right now when his value likely is at an all-time low. Despite his struggles offensively, getting rid of him would only make the Bruins' already lackluster scoring depth even worse.
It's up to DeBrusk to raise his game and become a more consistent player for the Bruins. They're going to need him, too. The B's cannot rely on the first line to carry them back to the Stanley Cup Final. A deep playoff run is only possible if the second-tier of forwards step up and provide much-needed scoring in key moments. DeBrusk is part of that group, for better or worse.