ST. PAUL, Minn. — Jake DeBrusk opened some eyes well before the postseason began a year ago. As a rookie, he had 16 goals and 27 assists and established himself as a key player on a contending team.
Fast-forward to now, and his role is much more defined. He’s a mainstay on the second line in a lineup that’s been shuffled the entire season.
DeBrusk is more established than he was a season ago preparing for another playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but he feels like there’s still a long way to go before he’s comfortable with his progress.
“I wish I evolved a bit more, to be honest,” he said. “I think I’ve progressed decently, there’s been some ups and downs this year. I think you can use an excuse, second year or a young player trying to find their way. But I expect a lot out of myself, and I did more harm to myself than I have in years past.”
That self-assessment aligns with what the Bruins are hoping will be a continuing evolution for the 22-year-old winger.
“He’s a little streaky,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “But when he starts feeling it, he gets more jump. A young player, when he’s not feeling it, that’s where we have to do a better job, and he has to do a better job of saying, ‘I can still contribute in other ways,’ and stay in the game. Get through those lulls. I think he’s done that. He had one, I think December, where he had a tough go. … We’d like to see him avoid those longer ones.”
With just two goals in his final nine games last season — both in the same game — DeBrusk wasn’t clicking on the way he is right now. He has 13 goals and nine assists in his past 19 games and is up to 27 goals overall. Last year, he blossomed in the playoffs, with four goals against the Maple Leafs, two of them in Game 7 to help the B’s advance to face Tampa Bay.
The team was the same postseason path ahead of it this season, and DeBrusk will be counted on heavily, despite what might be a stronger supporting cast around him.
There’s plenty he can take out of that experience last year, but more from lessons learned in his sophomore season.
“You hear about it, people say it, but you try to keep an even keel throughout everything,” he said. “I think I was pretty locked in the whole series and had my legs, and felt that even though we had our backs against the wall. Still felt confident and pretty even, same mindset that helped me have success. I think that’s one thing that was different in the Tampa Bay series. That’s the biggest thing in the playoffs, you try to ignore the noise and believe in yourselves.”
DeBrusk said after Christmas when he started finding his game “for no rhyme or reason” it helped boost the rest of the campaign, and he’s happy to be sticking in the NHL and contributing to this team’s run.
If anything, he’s tough on himself to keep getting better.
“Just frustration, I expect a lot out of myself,” DeBrusk said. “I can get on myself too much at certain times. I can triple overthink everything, the mind works in crazy ways. You’re hot, you’re en fuego, and then I had it where it was the other way around and things that wouldn’t normally bug me I was letting get to me. That’s something I learned about this year.”