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2021 Player Ratings: For Jake DeBrusk, there should be nowhere to go but up

It was bad.

NHL: JUN 05 Stanley Cup Playoffs Second Round - Bruins at Islanders Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Reader Rating: 3.8

SCOC Rating: 4.6

Let’s just get this out of the way from the beginning: it was a bad year for Jake DeBrusk.

You know it. I know it. He knows it. His coach knows it.

After a career year in 2018-2019, most of us hoped that DeBrusk’s dip to 19 goals in 2020 was his “down year;” needless to say, that’s not quite how things went.

DeBrusk posted career lows in just about every category: goals, assists, points, name it.

(Interestingly, he had more blocked shots in 41 games last season than he did in 65 games the season before...silver lining!)

It was no secret prior to this season that DeBrusk was a bit of a streaky player: when he was hot, he was hot, and when he was cold, he was ice cold.

The problem this season was that the “ice cold” by far outnumbered the hot. DeBrusk had three separate streaks of 7+ games without a goal, including one that stretched to 12 games; in a 56-game season, that’s a big chunk.

It’s no surprise that DeBrusk’s playing time suffered as a result, moving down the lineup before eventually finding himself on Level 9 more than once (including in the playoffs).

Once Taylor Hall arrived, you knew DeBrusk wasn’t getting his 2LW spot back, and being bumped further down the lineup did little to shake off the rust.

Unsurprisingly for a guy who has been a decent playoff performer, his playoff run started well, with two goals in the B’s first two games against Washington.

Signs of a turnaround? No...he wouldn’t score again.

Now that we got that out of the way, it might be worth adding some context.

DeBrusk spent more than two weeks in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols, and it was eventually revealed that he had, in fact, been dealing with the virus.

DeBrusk, as a young guy without a family of his own, was among the players most affected by the COVID restrictions, unable to enjoy the camaraderie of his teammates, spending time alone, etc.

He acknowledged struggling with the mental aspects of it all after the season:

“This year was difficult...Coming home after road trips and stuff like that, day to day. I mean, isolation is the cute word everyone likes to use. I think I talked about a little bit earlier in the year, to be honest with you. It was difficult, I wasn’t able to see my family. It was one of those things where it was just hockey all the time. Wasn’t that great of a year.”

The more cynical among us will say that he’s just using COVID as an excuse, other players had to deal with the same things, etc.

While some of that may be true, it’s also true that everyone deals with things differently. For someone like DeBrusk, not being able to, for example, enjoy a dinner with your father after a rough stretch of hockey might have been more difficult than we’d know.

After all, if you’re struggling to get going on the ice and there’s essentially no such thing as off-ice activity, you can see how the struggles may start to multiply exponentially.

This isn’t to say that DeBrusk should be immune from criticism for his performance this year, but that maybe it should be looked at through a slightly less harsh lens.

Now, the bigger question: what now?

Large segments of the fan base have already sold DeBrusk for pennies, desperate to just be rid of him.

Many suggested leaving him exposed in the Expansion Draft, which would have been nuts.

Yes, the Bruins need some cap room, and given the signings last week, you could argue they have replacements available for DeBrusk.

However, dealing DeBrusk now would be the ultimate case of “selling low,” which you rarely want to do (of course, we could then get into the sunk cost fallacy and argue even more).

There are two ways of looking at it:

  1. DeBrusk has already peaked, and it’s time to move on.
  2. Things can’t get much worse for DeBrusk, and it’s better to be patient.

I fall more into the latter camp, but I’m an optimist.

When he’s at his best, DeBrusk plays with energy, with passion, with a knack for scoring big goals. It’s not hard to see why those things were absent in a weird season.

Ultimately, however, what happens next with DeBrusk will be up to him.

Many of us have heard the comments about how he isn’t the healthiest eater or the ultimate gym rat, but you also don’t have to be Nathan MacKinnon levels of fit to be a good player (see Phil Kessel).

DeBrusk’s 2021 season can either be one of the last rungs before he falls off the ladder and becomes a journeyman, or can be a small bump on the road to better things.

Once again, I’d bet on the latter — but given the way things have gone, I’m not convinced it’ll be with the Bruins.