BOSTON -- At this point last season, Jake DeBrusk's future in Boston was uncertain. The Bruins forward had requested a trade and he wasn't scoring goals at a consistent rate.
Fast forward to Monday and DeBrusk not only is playing a vital role for one of the NHL's best offensive teams, he was the hero of the 2023 Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Fenway Park.
What a difference a year makes, right?
The Bruins didn't generate much offensively through two periods. The Penguins earned a 20-19 edge in shots and a 20-15 advantage in scoring chances over the first 40 minutes.
Boston needed someone to step up and spark a turnaround. DeBrusk filled that role in a huge way.
The 26-year-old right wing was Boston's best skater through 40 minutes, and he finally broke through in the third period with a goal in front of the net to tie the score.
"He scores some big goals and he has over the years. When he plays with that confidence and he skates, the puck seems to find him sometimes," Bruins center Charlie Coyle said of DeBrusk. "He made it happen."
DeBrusk was a bit shaken up after blocking a shot a few moments before his first tally, but he toughed it out, finished the shift and was rewarded with a much-needed goal for the Bruins.
"He's a lot tougher than people think. He's more committed than people are aware," Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said about DeBrusk. "And because of those things, his game is growing. He's matured. And you can see it. He's on pace to get more than 30 goals. It doesn't matter where I use him, he seems to spark the people he plays with."
DeBrusk scored the go-ahead goal with just 2:24 left in the third period. Taylor Hall drove hard to the net and couldn't finish, but DeBrusk was right there to pick up the pieces and beat Penguins goalie Casey DeSmith. Boston ultimately prevailed with a 2-1 victory in front of a sellout crowd of 39,243 fans.
"He's kept himself in excellent shape," Montgomery said of DeBrusk. "He's come to work every day to get better. He's been relentless on pucks. He comes up with a lot of pucks and turnovers because of his relentless pursuit of pucks."
The Bruins' decision to hold on to DeBrusk past last season's trade deadline has proven to be a great one. He finished the 2021-22 season strong, and after rescinding his trade request in the summer, DeBrusk came into the 2022-23 campaign with a chance to revive his career under a new head coach in Montgomery.
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DeBrusk is having the best year of his career with 30 points (16 goals, 16 assists) in 36 games. He's on pace to score 36 goals, which would easily surpass his previous high for a single season of 27. And it's not just about scoring goals, either. DeBrusk has become a better defensive player, he's contributing 1:28 of ice time per game to the best penalty kill in the league, and he's playing with the type of tenacity that's contagious for his teammates.
The last year hasn't been easy for DeBrusk, but he deserves a ton of credit for improving at both ends of the ice and transforming into one of the team's most important players. His emergence as a reliable scorer has given the Bruins much-needed depth and versatility.
"It's been a whirlwind, to say the least," DeBrusk said after the Winter Classic. "It's obviously something that's special for this entire group. This is Fenway Park, the Winter Classic, something you dream of doing. You dream of scoring in the Winter Classic, and I've played in three. Lucky enough to get some good bounces tonight. Linus (Ullmark) kept us in it. We had some penalty kills at the right times. I feel blessed, honestly, to be in this position."