I’m going to start you off with a shocking take here: it wasn’t the best season for Jake DeBrusk.
The 24-year-old forward had his worst NHL season yet, recording just 14 points in 41 games. His productivity level of 0.34 points per game was by far the worst of his NHL career, compared to 0.54 PPG last year, 0.62 the year before that, and 0.61 in his rookie year. DeBrusk saw himself moved up and down the lineup over the course of the season, eventually being moved in and out of the lineup as well.
It all culminated with a healthy scratch during the second round against the Islanders, making it Christmas for 2015 Draft takes.
Good times all around.
After the season ended, DeBrusk had some interesting comments, both acknowledging that his game needed work and citing haters and negativity as issues he dealt with.
“I need to revamp some stuff,” he said at break-up day. “There were a lot of factors that went into this year...things that I could control and couldn’t control. I dealt with a lot of negativity as well. It’s one of those things that’s something you have to learn, as you sign up.”
“I’m a big boy, I can handle that...just became a little bit of an easy target,” he continued. “My haters had a lot to say this year. It’s one of those things where, like I said, just have to revamp some things with training and different mindset. My mindset is an interesting place right now.”
There’s a lot to unpack there. DeBrusk was, for sure, The Whipping Boy for Bruins fans this season, and while it wasn’t entirely undeserved, the intensity of the “hate” was probably a bit much at times. Like many players, DeBrusk had his fair share of slumps this season, but he also shot 5.4%, nearly six full percentage points lower than his previous career low.
This isn’t to say that it was all about luck, but that luck had to have played at least a little bit of a role.
Why does all of this come up now? Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy was asked about DeBrusk at his media availability yesterday, and like DeBrusk’s, Cassidy’s comments were interesting.
“There needs to be a little time, personally,” said Cassidy of connecting with DeBrusk. “My conversations with Jake...would have been too raw the day after.”
Points for honesty, but it’s not hard to read between the lines.
“We’re going to sit down this week, now that we’ve both digested,” Cassidy said. “See if we can sort through a bit of the season and say, ‘okay, let’s find some common ground on where you see yourself fitting into this lineup and where I feel you need to be better.”
Over the course of the season, Cassidy wasn’t sparing in his criticism of DeBrusk, whether it was “just help us win” or “we’re not getting enough.”
Again, it wasn’t undeserved, but was a bit surprising in the public nature of the comments. This, of course, led to people speculating that Cassidy was speaking publicly due to not being able to get the message through privately.
“It’s up to me to dig a little deeper with him so we can get to the root of what’s going to make [DeBrusk] the best player,” Cassidy said on Monday. “We’ve tried that, don’t get me wrong...players have meetings with coaches, assistant coaches, but you’re always onto the next game...but maybe this will be a little bit of a longer process with Jake.”
“We feel he’s a good kid, and he’s been a good player for the Bruins,” he went on. “He’s been inconsistent and part of that falls on the player, obviously...it’s his job to get himself ready. Part of it falls on the staff to get the best out of him.”
“Hopefully we can find some common ground on that, and at the end of the day get him to where he needs to be,” Cassidy finished. I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the relationship between DeBrusk and the coaching staff may be a bit tense, or at least that their patience is wearing a bit thin.
DeBrusk, for his part, has acknowledged that he needs to improve in certain areas and seems ready to commit to doing it. Some fans are ready to dump DeBrusk on the first taker, which seems like the epitome of selling low, given the season he had. DeBrusk has been a good player for the Bruins before, so you’d like to think that doesn’t just disappear; however, the B’s are running out of time for DeBrusk to put it together.
Assuming, for the sake of discussion, that Taylor Hall is back next season, DeBrusk’s going to find himself in a fight for regular ice time. If he plays like he did this season, he’ll be doing a lot more watching than playing. This is a pretty key summer for both DeBrusk and the Bruins: DeBrusk is playing for his next contract (he’ll be a restricted free agent after this season) and the Bruins trying to retool for a Cup run with no room for passengers.
Both sides acknowledge there are issues. Both sides acknowledge there’s potential. Both sides acknowledge there are solutions.
If both sides can make it work this summer, then next year could be great; if not, they’ll likely be headed in different directions.