The results were not always there, but the heart and effort could never be questioned. The 21-year old Jake DeBrusk opened a lot of eyes last season after a 16-goal, 43 point rookie campaign. But it was the playoffs where DeBrusk shined the brightest.
Rewind to Game 1 of the Bruins Eastern Conference Semifinals series with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Holding onto a two-goal lead in the third period, DeBrusk had arguably his most memorable shift of his young NHL career.
Following a punishing hit from Alex Killorn, DeBrusk was knocked down to the ice. Once recovered from the hit, DeBrusk found his way back onto his feet, only to be sent right back down to the ice after blocking a powerful shot from Yanni Gourde. Sprawled on the ice, DeBrusk's initial clearing attempt failed. Still sprawled on the ice, DeBrusk dove head-first towards the loose puck, this time clearing the zone. DeBrusk got back to his feet and gingerly skated back to the Bruins bench. When he finally did arrive, DeBrusk was met by a standing Bruins bench, appreciating the rookie's efforts.
DeBrusk's empty-netter later in the period was the icing on the cake in what was a 6-2 Bruins victory. DeBrusk finished the playoffs with six goals and two assists. But more important than the stats he compiled, was what DeBrusk showed in the Bruins 12 playoff games.
The effort shown in that Game 1 shift is exactly what to expect from DeBrusk every time he touches the ice.
However, as much as DeBrusk was a pleasant surprise last season, the year wasn't all unicorns and rainbows for DeBrusk.
After suffering through a tough 11-game stretch from the end of October into mid-November, DeBrusk was a healthy scratch for the first time in young NHL career. In that 11-game span prior to the scratch, DeBrusk managed just one goal and a team worst minus-10.
For a young kid like DeBrusk, the lessons learned in the scratch were key in his development and it was clear the scratch did indeed teach him a lesson.
DeBrusk bounced back from the healthy scratch with three goals and five assists in his next 10 games. From there, DeBrusk never looked back.
DeBrusk's play in the regular season was impressive, but his play in the postseason was much more impressive and to me, a better representation of what to expect from DeBrusk moving forward.
The playoffs showed us a DeBrusk who can score big goals, throw the body around when needed, and a guy who is not afraid to sacrifice his body for the benefit of the team.
As is the case with most rookies coming of off good rookie seasons, this next one is an important one for DeBrusk, one where he needs to continue to grow his game and be better than he was in the year prior. I have no doubts about that happening.
After a 16-goal rookie season, I see DeBrusk floating around 25 goals. A nine goal increase for a player who is only going to get better is not too much to expect. It's easy to see DeBrusk developing into a consistent 30-goal scorer at some point in his career.
After finding chemistry with him last season, DeBrusk is expected to open the year alongside David Krejci. Who fills the right wing gap on the line however,
remains to be seen.
Krejci and DeBrusk worked so well last season thanks to their respective skillsets. Krejci's ability to create space with the puck and find the open man was a benefit for DeBrusk who has a heavy shot. DeBrusk's willingness to get to the dirty areas was also a key for Krejci and the Bruins.
DeBrusk played through a shoulder injury in the playoffs, something you wouldn't have noticed by watching his play. He is expected to be fully recovered when training camp kicks off.
Expectations will be high for DeBrusk in 2018-19, but the forward hasn't showed us any signs that he won't be able to handle the pressure of higher expectations.