Today’s piece on Jake DeBrusk is the seventh in a 10-part series over the next two weeks breaking down the core Bruins group of players, and where they stand headed into next season after last spring’s Stanley Cup playoff run.
The belief was that Jake DeBrusk was going to be a difference-maker for the Bruins in these playoffs.
After scoring six goals a year ago in his first postseason experience just two rounds into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the thought was that the 22-year-old DeBrusk would be a big offense driver after scoring 27 goals in 68 games during the regular season.
Unfortunately for both DeBrusk and the Bruins, that isn’t the way it all shook out for the second-year left winger. Instead he got embroiled into a nasty little exchange with Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri that left him dinged up, and then fighting to find his game for most of the rest of Boston’s long playoff run.
There were some good games in there to be sure, and he still wound up with four goals and 11 points while ending up a plus-4 through four rounds of the postseason.
Still, newly acquired forwards like Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle outplayed DeBrusk during the postseason and left the Bruins brass hoping that the experience will make him a more effective playoff player moving forward.
“I thought we might see more from Jake, but then again it’s a learning experience. A couple of years ago he had a really strong playoff, especially against Toronto,” said Bruins President Cam Neely in an exclusive 1-on-1 with NBC Sports Boston. “But you’ve got to go through these experiences and hopefully learn from them and grow. That’s what I expect from Jake. I know these guys are all proud players and they understand the importance of playing well in the playoffs and not just in the regular season.
“That’s what I say to these guys. 'You really want to be known as a playoff player.' That’s what we all play for — to win the Cup. I expect Jake to learn from this and improve, not only during the regular season but you’ll see some growth in the playoffs because of this.”
Certainly, there is a streakiness to DeBrusk’s game that hasn’t really sraightened out over two seasons, and four rounds of postseason pressure is considerable for even the most talented of young players. There’s also an element of DeBrusk fully developing into what he’s going to be when things get nasty in the playoffs. Is he going to be a tough-minded, physical power forward type who can bring size and strength to the table as he matures? Or is he going to be another in a long line of skill players that rely on speed, hands and scoring ability to do all their damage?
At 6-feet tall there’s a chance for DeBrusk to continue adding strength and muscle to his frame as he gets a little older and perhaps bring a little more physical oomph when his skating legs aren’t moving at their top speed. But there’s also the simple fact that DeBrusk is doing plenty right already with 43 goals scored in his first two NHL seasons.
The Bruins just have to hope the experience of getting to a Stanley Cup Final is going to make DeBrusk a more complete player in every facet. And the 22-year-old keeps developing the playmaking, two-way ability and consistency factors within his game that still need some improvement after two very solid seasons to begin his NHL career.
Key stat: 4 – The number of goals for DeBrusk in 24 playoff games for the Bruins this spring. DeBrusk had six goals in eight playoff games the prior spring.
DeBrusk in his own words: “I’m just trying to see the positives out of this year in general, but it doesn’t really matter if you don’t win the last game of the year. We all believed that we were going to win it. We were right there.”
The biggest question he faces: How much better can DeBrusk get as a top-6 winger after scoring 27 goals during the regular season, but only scoring one more point overall in his second NHL season. There’s no question that the goal-scoring area was a big success for him in Year No. 2, but DeBrusk could stand to build the other areas of his game. Obviously, DeBrusk also needs to step up his playoff game after scoring just four goals in four rounds of the postseason this spring as well. Can DeBrusk regain his reputation as a playoff performer next season and beyond? That’s up to him to decide.
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