Jake DeBrusk was having his best season with the Boston Bruins before suffering a reported fractured fibula in the 2023 Winter Classic on Jan. 2.
After scoring twice in that Winter Classic win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, DeBrusk ranked second on the team in goals (16) and third in points (30). He was finally putting together a consistent scoring campaign after some struggles in the final two years of Bruce Cassidy's tenure as head coach.
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But the 26-year-old forward's leg injury from the Winter Classic sidelined him for about six weeks. The concern was whether DeBrusk would score at the same rate upon his return. Would this injury derail the positive momentum he built up over the first couple months of the 2022-23 season?
Luckily for the Bruins, the answer to the second question has been an emphatic NO.
DeBrusk's 16 points since returning to the lineup on Feb. 18 are tied for the second-most on the team over that span. The only player who has tallied more points is David Pastrnak with 21. DeBrusk's eight goals during this period is second to Pastrnak's 10.
DeBrusk has been especially productive over the last four games with seven points. He has scored a goal in each of those matchups, including an impressive move in Thursday night's 4-2 win over the rival Montreal Canadiens at TD Garden.
"Seven in four, eh?" DeBrusk told reporters after Thursday's victory. "Just some puck luck and just trying to get into the hard areas and just trying to play my game. And at the same time, I think that I've gotten some really good passes. Just trying to bear down and get out a couple more tonight. It's one of those things where I'm just trying to build my game, as we all are, going into the playoffs."
DeBrusk was moved to first-line right wing next to Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in the second half of last season. The move ignited DeBrusk's uptick in performance, and that success has carried right into 2022-23.
The Bruins are a plus-126 in shot attempts, a plus-72 in shots on net, a plus-99 in scoring chances and have a goal differential of 23-11 during the 362:16 of 5-on-5 ice time that the Marchand-Bergeron-DeBrusk line has played this season, per Natural Stat Trick. DeBrusk's effectiveness on the first line has allowed Pastrnak to remain on the second line, where he's having a career-best season alongside David Krejci and Pavel Zacha.
One of the major issues for the Bruins in recent playoff runs was a lack of scoring depth. They didn't get enough goals from players not named Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak. This year's team doesn't have that issue, and DeBrusk's emergence as a reliable creator of offense on the top line is a major reason why.