Jake DeBrusk’s tenure in Boston has been the true definition of inconsistent as hot-and-cold streaks have followed DeBrusk for the majority of his four seasons with the Bruins.
When he’s hot, he’s a player that can play a valuable top-six role, providing the Bruins with much needed scoring depth beyond the Patrice Bergeron line.
But when he’s cold, he’s a player that leaves you desiring more, questioning what DeBrusk’s ceiling really looks like.
Through 15 games DeBrusk has yet to go through one of his patented hot streaks, being stuck in the middle of a frustrating cold streak.
And in that cold streak, the numbers are a bit alarming.
DeBrusk has one goal and three assists in 15 games, not yet scoring five-on-five. His shooting percentage is down to 3.1% from the 11.8% clip it was last season. In the 2018-19 season, DeBrusk was at a 17.31% clip.
Pucks are not always going to go in for players. Even natural goal scorers like David Pastrnak go through runs where things are simply not going in their favor, that’s the nature of the game.
But when you’re not scoring, or not racking up points with assists, you’ve still got to do the little things that help make you effective and adds to the team’s success outside of offensive production.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy is not seeing that from DeBrusk.
“Jake has more to give,” Cassidy said.
“I think he’s had pockets of real good hockey and other inconsistent moments where he’s not playing to his strengths to affect the game. By that, I mean turning some pucks over on the forecheck. Attack and get inside ice when you have an opportunity when there’s maybe a vulnerable D one-on-one. Second effort around the front of net, some rebound opportunities. I don’t see Jake enough in the video after.”
While the Bruins have held the edge in shot attempts and shots on goal in the 179:48 of five-on-five ice time DeBrusk has skated this season, they’ve been outscored 8-5 in that span.
Ultimately a player’s success is their own doing. Once they jump onto the ice, it’s up to them to make things happen, there’s only so much a coaching staff can do to jumpstart that process. One of those things a coaching staff can do is dictating where a player’s shift begins.
Five-on-five, 72.22% of DeBrusk’s shifts have started in the offensive zone, DeBrusk has done nothing with the help the coaching staff has given him.
While Cassidy obviously wants to see goals and assists coming from DeBrusk, he wants to see DeBrusk doing little things to help the team as mentioned above.
Cassidy used a shift from Bergeron in Sunday’s victory over the New York Rangers as an example of what he wants to see more of from DeBrusk.
Bergeron did not factor into Charlie McAvoy’s goal, but his fingerprints were all over it.
Bergeron’s role is not to be the net-front presence on his line, but he’s smart enough to know when there’s an opening, and when to slide into that area. Bergeron got to the net at just the right time, taking away the eyes of Rangers’ goalie Alexander Georgiev, allowing McAvoy’s point shot to find the back of the net.
“He’s not there the whole time,” Cassidy said of Bergeron getting to the net. “But he’s there when it’s his turn to go there. It’s what he does so well. It’s what that line does so well. That’s what we want to see a little more of from Jake. When it’s your turn to be the inside net presence, stay there and don’t get pushed out of there easily."
DeBrusk took a step forward in snapping out of his slump in Wednesday’s 2-1 shootout loss to the Rangers, but it was in a pair of plays where he could have secured a win for the Bruins that he failed to capitalize on.
Given Cassidy’s message the day prior, and DeBrusk’s continued struggles, more than ever he needed to convert on one of those chances.
“He’s a good rush player certainly when he gets in all alone, has space,” said Cassidy. “He’s got a shot that can beat goaltenders clean, but that doesn’t always present itself. That’s what we’re looking for from Jake."
Tied at one late in the third period Wednesday, DeBrusk raced down the right wing with a bit of space around him. A well-placed shot could have given the Bruins the lead, but DeBrusk’s bid was stopped by Capitals goalie Vitek Vanecek. The shot produced no rebound, failing to give the Bruins a second opportunity chance.
In overtime, after DeBrusk joined Sean Kuraly on a heavy forecheck, Kuraly found DeBrusk in space, but DeBrusk couldn’t settle the pass from Kuraly, allowing Vanecek to disrupt the high-danger chance with a poke check.
Another wasted opportunity.
Two examples of DeBrusk putting himself into positions to find success, but with the Bruins scoring issues—especially five-on-five—not going away anytime soon, those are opportunities DeBrusk needs to cash in on.
“Offensively they had some legs,” Cassidy said of the Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka and DeBrusk line. “I thought Jake was hard on pucks, second effort on pucks. I thought he was doing a good job.”
Playing on a third line centered by Studnicka Wednesday night, DeBrusk’s struggles can’t be linked to who has been centering him in the 15 games he’s played.
45:28 of DeBrusk’s five-on-five ice time has come with Bergeron on the ice, 23:10 coming with David Krejci.
“The onus falls on the player, no matter who your center is or other winger, just to line up and play hockey,” Cassidy said. “That’s a little bit of what we’re expecting from Jake. Yes, in the long run, it might affect some of your totals or somethings. But you should still be a good hockey player once the puck drops when you’re in the lineup.”
Five-on-five, the Bruins are averaging 2.13 GF/60 minutes of play, 21st in the league.