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Building off a breakthrough: Jake DeBrusk


Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team -- from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Boston Bruins.

It’s a decision - or maybe three decisions? - that could haunt the Boston Bruins for more than a decade.

A new management group received a golden opportunity to build for the future with picks 13, 14, and 15 in the 2015 NHL Draft. History will probably argue that those were more like three strikes, as the Bruins decided not to draft Mathew Barzal, whom the New York Islanders jumped on immediately afterward with pick 16.

As of this moment, Barzal’s scored almost twice as many points (85) as the Bruins’ three combined picks (43), while appearing in several additional games (84 to 70). Barzal’s highlight-reel skills are often used to lampoon the Oilers for sending the Islanders the picks to grab the 2018 Calder Trophy winner, yet Bruins fans may also be tormented by what could have been.

The 2017-18 season didn’t just rub salt in the wounds regarding that pick, though.
[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Three questions ]

While the other two picks (Jakub Zboril at 13, Zachary Senyshyn at 15) have yet to appear in an NHL game, Jake DeBrusk represents all of the stats in the aforementioned comparison: he scored 16 goals and 43 points in 70 games to enjoy a very promising rookie season.

DeBrusk also enjoyed a taste of playoff success, something Barzal may not experience for some time if the Isles can’t get it together. During the Bruins’ up-and-down run, DeBrusk scored eight points in 12 playoff contests, including the Game 7 tally that stood as the clincher against Toronto.

Such composed play against Toronto drew plenty of praise:

While DeBrusk, 21, enjoyed cushy offensive zone starts that undoubtedly helped him achieve strong possession stats, it’s worth noting that he scored at a very nice clip despite averaging just 14:22 TOI per game in 2017-18.

Stanley Cup of Chowder notes how well DeBrusk checks out under Evolving Wild’s evolving metrics, as just one example. It remains to be seen if he’s a high-end talent or “just” a very nice supporting cast member for the Bruins, but either way, the scorer’s ascent is a fabulous plus.

DeBrusk presents something for old-school fans, not just analytics-types, as he already authored something of a “warrior” shift. It’s the sort of stuff that might make your old man fight back tears.

Considering DeBrusk’s ability to make the most of his reps so far, not to mention the chemistry he already developed with David Krejci, it would only make sense for the Bruins to lean far more heavily upon the young forward more in 2018-19.

(Amusingly, in the backdrop of almost unavoidable criticisms of that draft-day approach in passing on Barzal, the Bruins’ knack for otherwise shrewd draft and development may provide DeBrusk with competition for more lucrative opportunities.)

Yes, it’s unlikely that DeBrusk will surpass Barzal over the long haul. Even if it’s close, grumpy types will note that the Bruins could have drafted them both.

Nonetheless, a youth movement really injected renewed vigor into a Bruins franchise that seemed to show signs of decline late in Claude Julien’s run. Part of that might come down to Bruce Cassidy being more willing to let wet-behind-the-ears players show that they can produce beyond their years. The rest can be chalked up to emerging talent, and DeBrusk stands among the better examples of the gems management unearthed.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.