Jake DeBrusk does what he can to build the Bruins’ team play when he jumps the boards.
Through the first month of the 2023-2024 NHL season, only David Pastrnak has logged more average even-strength ice time (15:30) than DeBrusk (13:55) among Bruins forwards. He is averaging 2:10 short reps per game and plays a key role on a penalty-kill unit that ranks second in the NHL (90.9 percent).
The 27-year-old forward has gone from a streaky O-zone asset to a viable two-way contributor on a stingy Bruins roster.
But even if DeBrusk hasn’t fallen out of Jim Montgomery’s favor, he’s well aware that his contributions to this Bruins team will ring hollow if his greatest skills – puck-routing – don’t produce results.
“I haven’t really hated my game, I think it’s just a matter of not really getting much attention,” DeBrusk noted Monday. “It’s one of those things you worry about when you’re not being watched.
“And it seems like they come and go. To be honest, I don’t think I really missed a grade. I haven’t really had many. So that’s clearly something that I had to change and that I have some control over.”
Through thirteen games, DeBrusk has lit the lamp just once, scoring a total of five points for a Bruins team in desperate need of a consistent 5v5 offense.
With the Bruins losing 80 goals and 210 total points this past summer due to free agency, trades and retirements, DeBrusk’s scoring touch would become crucial for a forward corps full of new free-agent pickups and unproven youngsters.
DeBrusk scored 27 goals in just 64 games for the Bruins last season. Had he not missed six weeks of the season due to a broken fibula suffered in the 2023 Winter Classic, DeBrusk would have been on pace for more than 35 goals.
This year he is on pace for just six games and a total of 29 points. Far from ideal for a player who also wants to play unrestricted free agency next summer.
“I know when I’m on a roll and everything’s going right, it just comes to me and I’ll play when you do,” DeBrusk said of his day-to-day approach. “But at the same time, if that’s not the case, you really have to focus on the small details. … Everyone wants to become a driver. Everyone wants the puck. It’s just a matter of getting it and doing something right.”
While DeBrusk has yet to be consistently rewarded on the scoresheet, some of his scoring woes can be attributed to extended spells of bad luck.
With one goal on 29 shots this season, DeBrusk currently boasts an ugly 3.4% shooting percentage – well below his career average of 12.6%. Even with his dip in power play reps following the arrival of James van Riemsdyk, DeBrusk’s shooting slump will emerge from this ongoing regression.
DeBrusk’s base production isn’t meeting expectations, but his underlying numbers also offer some optimism. DeBrusk is at his best when he drives to the net and pockets loose pucks and rebounds, but he’s also far from a problem defensively.
Boston is still outscoring opponents, 7-2, during DeBrusk’s 165:49 of 5v5 ice time this season, with the Bruins holding a 3-0 edge in goals scored when DeBrusk has skated alongside rookie Matthew Poitras.
The bread and butter of DeBrusk’s game hasn’t disappeared amid his scoring woes either.
DeBrusk’s nose for the net, his 0-to-60 acceleration and his knack for buzzing around Class A ice have paid off during his seven years in the NHL.
DeBrusk currently leads all Bruins players in expected goals per 60 minutes in 5v5 play (3.31), while his 31.8 scoring opportunities per 60 minutes ranks fourth among Bruins forwards, behind Morgan Geekie, van Riemsdyk and Poitras.
DeBrusk’s slump has hampered Boston’s ability to build leads and find consistent channels for an equally potent offense against a reworked forward alignment.
But given DeBrusk’s track record of warming up after extended breaks – coupled with his insistence on bombarding the net with high-risk shots – it feels almost inevitable that DeBrusk will land multiple punches in the offensive zone.
“They come in bunches, but as soon as they do, I just have to put them in the net,” DeBrusk said of Class A looks. “In terms of affecting my other game. I think now in this part of my career I do different things in terms of being defensive. But at the same time – I mean, I’ve been a goal scorer my whole life, and there’s no one who hates that more than me.”
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