Bruins Summer Series: Jake DeBrusk looking to improve after a quiet postseason

Bruins Summer Series: Jake DeBrusk looking to improve after a quiet postseason

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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Bruce Cassidy's message to Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn: 'It's time to separate yourself'

Bruce Cassidy's message to Jakub Zboril, Zach Senyshyn: 'It's time to separate yourself'

BRIGHTON, Mass – With Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo now signed and in training camp, the news is overwhelmingly positive for the Black and Gold with a full camp roster highlighted by players returning from last year’s run to the Stanley Cup Final.

“The band is back together now, eh?” said a smiling Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy when asked about it on Wednesday afternoon with everybody on the ice and Patrice Bergeron seemingly healthy with no restrictions, either.

But a slew of returning players and avoided contract snafus also means few open spots on the NHL roster with the start of the regular season just a couple of weeks away. For some players, the clock is running short on their time to make an impact and become part of a Bruins group expected to once again compete and go deep in the playoffs this season.

Bruins prospects like 23-year-old Anders Bjork, 22-year-old Zach Senyshyn and 22-year-old Jakub Zboril are at a major crossroads with the Black and Gold entering this season. All three enter the final year of their entry level deals, as do Jeremy Lauzon, Ryan Fitzgerald and Karson Kuhlman, and need to begin making a bigger impact if they want to remain within the organization.

“Those guys are in the last year of their entry deals. It is important. You’re playing for your spot here in Boston, but also for your livelihood. You want to earn that next contract, and for some guys it takes a little bit longer,” said Cassidy. “They should be farther down the line than a guy like [Oskar] Steen that’s just coming in here and it’s all new to them. You’d expect those guys to push through.

“It’s just the circle of life so to speak. You have guys turning pro every year and we’ve got to make room for them. It’s kind of time to separate yourself. You should be the first call-up if you’re in that situation, and that should be your goal.”

Certainly Bjork is in a bit of a different category since he’s already played 50 NHL games, and a pair of shoulder surgeries have played a big role in holding back his development. But for Zboril and Senyshyn, former first round picks in the 2015 NHL Draft, it’s getting to become now or never time after a couple of “just okay” seasons at the AHL level.

Zboril has put identical four goal, 19-point seasons at the AHL over the last two seasons in Providence, and did so last year while playing in 12 fewer games for the P-Bruins. Senyshyn finished with 14 goals and 24 points last season for Providence, a pair of points less than he scored in his first pro season while playing in 66 games both seasons.

Zboril hasn’t really tapped into the offensive end of his game that many projected for him when he was in junior hockey, and Senyshyn hasn’t much resembled the guy that scored 40-plus goals in the OHL during his junior career. The Bruins are still searching for a top-6 right wing to play with David Krejci, and that should be Senyshyn based on his age and where he was drafted.

It just hasn’t happened to this point as the undrafted Kuhlman took that spot in the Bruins lineup during the Stanley Cup Final, and open auditions are once again there for the spot this fall in training camp.

Each now has some NHL games under their belt, but both were also surpassed organizationally by Connor Clifton and Kuhlman last season when injuries hit the Black and Gold at the NHL level. That’s a pretty telling statement about where both Zboril and Senyshyn are currently at in the organization, and an indicator that they both need to step up their games. If not, the bust term is going to be applied to two of the three first round picks from the 2015 NHL draft where the Bruins became the first team in history to make three consecutive first round selections.

“I’m just trying to show my details and show my work ethic and use my speed to take pucks to the net,” said Senyshyn, who said that playing a couple of games in the NHL last season has ‘lit a fire under me.’ “I think doing the little details that I’ve done the last couple of years in Providence is going to be big. I just have to trust my game and play with confidence.”

At this point, Zboril and Senyshyn are never going to be able to make people forget that players like Mathew Barzal, Kyle Connor, Thomas Chabot and Brock Boeser were selected shortly after them in that infamous first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. But they can make sure they are of use to the B’s organization and still attempt to develop into the impact players that Bruins scouts once clearly envisioned them to be four years ago.

If it doesn’t happen this season then it probably won’t be long before either of them, or both, might be facing an uphill battle in another NHL organization that doesn’t have as much invested in them.

Bruins prefer to leave Charlie Coyle at third-line center>>>

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Bruins' 'preference' is to leave Charlie Coyle at third line center

File photo

Bruins' 'preference' is to leave Charlie Coyle at third line center

BRIGHTON -- There was some question as to whether Charlie Coyle might get a little time at wing this season for the Bruins after locking things down at the third line center position last season after coming over in trade from the Minnesota Wild.

The 6-foot-3, 218-pound Coyle brought two-way play, puck possession and offensive upside to the third line upon his arrival, and then he really stepped it up in the playoffs with nine goals and 16 points in his 24 games. So naturally, there is curiosity as to whether his size, strength and offense could move up to right wing on the second line where his game could be paired pretty comfortably with playmaking David Krejci.

Or even more radically, Coyle’s size and strength could make an interesting match on the right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

But it sounds like the Bruins are going to keep things strong down the middle with Bergeron and Krejci as their top-6 centers and Coyle and Sean Kuraly as the bottom-6 centers giving the B's depth and quality down the middle of the lineup. Coyle was centering Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen at practice on Wednesday afternoon and has played center throughout training camp.

It may be getting to a point now where they don’t want to fool around with things by switching Coyle’s positions on him as happened in Minnesota, and it certainly sounds like Cassidy’s preference is to leave him at center.

“Generally speaking the match-up is the D-pair and the centerman down low. The wingers obviously matter, but they are less of a factor. At least that’s what I think when I think match-ups. So to have Charlie [Coyle] in there [at center] now, and my intention is to keep him there unless the team would be better served with him on the wing,” said Cassidy. “Right now, we like the way we played last year and hopefully this year. It makes you a lot more comfortable in terms of defending.”

Cassidy reserved the right to change his mind if Trent Frederic really comes along as an NHL-ready center or if all of the top-6 right wing candidates end up dropping the ball in training camp. That doesn’t appear to be the case over the first week of training camp and that may just mean Coyle stays in his comfortable position at center where he gives the Bruins the lineup depth that helped catapult them to the Stanley Cup Final last spring.

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