Not much is happening with Jake DeBrusk. The disgruntled left winger remains DFSB (Designated For Somewhere Better), now some two months after his deal-me-please request to general manager Don Sweeney was made public, back when the Bruins struggled to maintain .500 buoyancy in the East.
Now a sizzling hot 8-1-0 in the new year, and winners of an NHL-best five straight, there appears no urgency for the Bruins to find a new port o’ call for the 25-year-old DeBrusk. He’s DFSB for the time being. Perhaps longer.
Meanwhile, the one-time essential component to the franchise’s offense, present and future, has remained in radio silence. If he’s feeling better about wearing his No. 74 Black-and-Gold sweater, or perhaps reconsidering his stance that there are greener left wing pastures on which for him to graze, the previously chatty DeBrusk is not making it public.
“I don’t know if he’s changed his mind,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, prior to the Bruins trimming the Predators in OT, 4-3, Saturday afternoon at the Garden. “That’s a question better served by other people. He hasn’t said that to me at all.”
A standing Globe request for DeBrusk to comment, made to the club’s media relations staff, has remained quieter than his stat line.
Meanwhile, the former first-round pick plays on, usually at Charlie Coyle’s left side on the No. 3 line. It was No. 2 left winger Taylor Hall who proved the hero on Saturday, stuffing home the winner only 1:41 into OT.
Lost in the excitement: DeBrusk was but an inch or two from winning it 15 seconds earlier when he stormed down the middle at 3 on 3 and rang the post with his doorstep attempt on Juuse Saros.
Yep, missed it by THAT much. A smidge or two closer to Saros’s blocker, and who knows, maybe DeBrusk has goal No. 6 of the season, he’s flashing that infectious smile, talking up a Nor’easter-like storm, and racing into Sweeney’s office and screaming, “Hell, no, I won’t go.”
No telling Sweeney’s reaction to such a change of heart. In decades past, with Harry Sinden calling the shots on Causeway St., DeBrusk would have been dealt the second “trade” rolled off his tongue, and arrived in, say, Winnipeg or St. Louis two or three nights later. By bus.
The low-simmer Sweeney is not that reactionary. Also, in a 32-team NHL, he may have 31 potential trade partners, but he doesn’t have the scoring depth to allow a quick flip of DeBrusk without bringing back legit offense or boosting the back end’s ability to stop scoring. DeBrusk’s stock has fallen. In the trade game, he’s a distressed asset, in part by virtue of his ask out, and by his continued tepid production (5-5—10 in 30 games).
“He’s had some looks,” said Cassidy, sounding generally pleased with DeBrusk’s overall game of late. “But you know, that is where you have to keep pushing. Because that was Pasta [David Pastrnak] three weeks ago — he had some looks and it wasn’t going in. Look at him now, right? So you’ve got to stay with it, bear down, continue to do the things you need to do and hit the net when you get chances.”
Pastrnak, one of the game’s elite marksmen, went nine games without a goal last month. Amid the current 8-1-0 run, Pasta is back pounding (8-2—10).
DeBrusk lacks nothing in speed or willingness to shoot. He’s proven, when engaged, he can be a force.
He landed five shots Saturday, had another attempt blocked, and rang that post in OT. He is ever shot-ready, reflected in his career scoring line that has as many goals as assists (72). Other than some of the game’s greatest scorers, stat lines typically tip toward the assist side of the ledger.
Where DeBrusk’s game lacks most, and therefore he can make his greatest strides, is fighting for the puck — be it around the net, between the hash marks, or along the wall. Telling that he again did not land a hit Saturday, amid a game in which the two sides totaled an NHL season-high of 91 hits.
DeBrusk has recorded only 12 hits this season, the lowest among Bruins forwards, and only defenseman Matt Grzelcyk has a lower hit-per-60-minute average (1.72 vs. 1.41) Smack dog Anton Blidh tops that chart with 14.19 hits per 60. It may surprise everyone this side of Helsinki that no Bruin this season has registered more hits than No. 2 pivot Erik “The Hidden Hurt” Haula (70).
DeBrusk doesn’t have to transform himself into a bruiser. He does not have that frame. (6 feet, 195 pounds). But the best trade available resides within himself, a willingness to use his speed and reasonable size to get after pucks along boards, in the corners, and contest more in high-danger areas. He is built to fly and produce off the rush, and he delivers best when using his jets to burn by checking wingers or defensemen. It’s the heavy, mucking, grinding, blade-to-the-ice, workhorse game where he comes up far too light, sells himself way too short, and too often renders his line a nonfactor on the scoresheet.
Four–plus years into his NHL tour, the only one holding back Jake DeBrusk is the one who, for the moment, wears that No. 74 Black and Gold sweater. His fight is not with the coach, the coaching staff, the media, his placement in the lineup, or the placement service in the front office that has yet to find him a new team.
DeBrusk’s greatest fight remains his failure thus far to add to his toolbox with the wrench and pain necessary for him to become a productive, consistent top-six NHL winger.
That work, or lack of it, is all on Jake. He has the goods. He’ll have another chance Tuesday night with the Hurricanes in town to deliver on the promise he once showed. What a platform. What a pity if he doesn’t take advantage of it, doesn’t realize that Somewhere Better happens to be right where he is standing.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.