Jake DeBrusk has just had the best season of his career.
The light-footed winger was always a productive player during his six years in Boston, totaling 119 goals and 226 points in 385 games in a black and gold sweater.
But the 2022-23 campaign has seen DeBrusk go from being a top-six passenger to a full-fledged impact player.
Had he not missed six weeks with a fractured fibula in the 2023 Winter Classic, DeBrusk was on pace to score 35 goals. Over his last 82 regular season games (including 2021-22), DeBrusk has 37 goals and 66 points.
At just 26 years old, DeBrusk has established himself as a key cog on an evolving Bruins team.
But given the talent drain that sapped Boston’s forward corps over the summer, the Bruins need the affable forward to be more than just a sparkplug for goal-scoring in 2023-24 .
“He’s entering the prime of his career,” Jim Montgomery said of DeBrusk Thursday afternoon. “I think he’s ready to be a go-to player and not a complementary player, but a player that leads the line.
“He and I talked about it a lot. … He was really good for us for 90 percent of the games. With (Patrice) Bergeron, I could count on 100 percent of the games. There’s 10 percent to make up and he has to carry some of that weight. Not just him but a lot of others, but I think mentally he wants it and he’s ready for it.
The bread and butter of DeBrusk’s game is his straight-line speed and balanced hand-eye skills. Already blessed with a knack for driving to the net, DeBrusk does most of his damage against defenses through grade-A wrist shots, deflections and rebounds.
But DeBrusk’s 0-to-60 acceleration can do more than put opposing defenders on their heels on rushing opportunities.
Stapled alongside Bergeron and Brad Marchand last season, DeBrusk helped create successful shifts in the O-zone for his linemates by winning foot races to lose pucks and wreaking havoc on the miss- Before.
That speed translated into shorthanded situations, where DeBrusk spent an average of 1:22 of ice time per game on the penalty kill.
Montgomery’s thoughts weren’t lost on DeBrusk, who believes the key to consistency is using his speed in all situations.
“I think it’s not necessarily about being selfish, but just focusing on what I can bring every night and I think with my speed, that’s the most important thing – where I can cause a little chaos on the forecheck or just in general when he comes in to rush plays,” DeBrusk said. “I think it’s one of those things I’m looking to do more of.
“I agree with Monty. As the year went on, I felt like there were certain times where I was more confident or more comfortable doing these things and the only way to get better was to keep trying. You’re going to fail sometimes, but it’s one of those things that when I play well, it’s what I do naturally.
Without Bergeron and David Krejci in place, Montgomery and the Bruins will need to propel Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha into significant roles as Boston’s new top six centers.
Montgomery and the Bruins have regularly expressed confidence in the two centers as they begin the unenviable task of replacing two titans within the organization.
But even if Boston believes Coyle and Zacha can thrive with additional reps, the Bruins will need to lean heavily on their top six wings to help drive play and make it easier for the two centers to integrate into their new surroundings.
Sticking Zacha next to 60-goal scorer David Pastrnak is a good path to unlocking more offense from the promising center.
But as Coyle looks to replace Bergeron on the top line, having an engaged and disruptive DeBrusk on the wing could make life a lot easier for the Weymouth native.
And with DeBrusk also looking to land a sizable new contract, any additional production as a “must-have” player should benefit all parties during the 2023-24 season.
“When it comes to contract negotiations, it’s one of those things where it takes two sides to tango, and every time it happens, it happens,” DeBrusk said of his free agency in wait until next summer. “But it’s one of those things where it’s not necessarily my main focus.
“Obviously it’s a big year for our team overall and I know if I do my part and have success with production and certain things, it will help our team. I think it goes hand in hand and it’s one of those things that I’m ready to get the season going. I’m excited for this.
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