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Bruins’ Jake DeBrusk came through a difficult season feeling resilient and confident

Getting put on a line with captain Patrice Bergeron (right) helped spark Jake DeBrusk (left) to a solid campaign of 25 goals and 17 assists.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The notifications started pinging as soon as the tweet dropped.

The Bruins might have known since last summer that Jake DeBrusk wanted to be traded, but the rest of the world didn’t find out until November, when a tweet made it public in the middle of the hockey season.

The news flew through social media.

“I woke up and my phone was getting absolutely abused,” DeBrusk said. “It was a pretty crazy 24 hours.”

The reaction from fans was one thing, but the response from his team was something different. The Bruins have a group chat, but it was relatively quiet when the news dropped. The last thing DeBrusk wanted was an awkward moment when he walked into the locker room the next morning.


He didn’t have to worry about it. Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron came to him with a suggestion.

“He just said, ‘Hey, I think it’d be a good idea if you talked to the team,’ ” DeBrusk recalled.

DeBrusk did just that.

“It seems like forever ago, but it was a pretty intense time,” DeBrusk said. “I think that was the full force of it. I feel like it got better after that.”

The Bruins were a team built to make a playoff push. The drama wasn’t going to seep into the process. Everyone agreed to keep it in-house.

“I’m sure it was a stressful time for him,” Bergeron said. “That being said, it’s something that he’s handled well. I think, as a team, we also didn’t really focus on [it], as far as the trade was concerned. We were more worried about what we could accomplish as a team and everyone kind of pulling on the rope.”

DeBrusk had gone into the season, his fifth in the NHL since being drafted by the Bruins with the 14th overall pick in 2015, with his eyes wide open. He knew the stakes and what it meant for his future. When his trade request became public, he was wearing a 3-3—6 line in 18 games.


What he didn’t know was how many opportunities were about to open up for him. He didn’t know he would respond to being the center of unwanted attention by scoring his fourth goal of the season the next night in Nashville, then scoring again a week later in Edmonton.

He didn’t know a COVID surge in December would disrupt another season in his young career.

He didn’t know coach Bruce Cassidy would come out of the hiatus with plans to reconfigure the lines.

He didn’t know that by February, he’d land on the top line with Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

He didn’t know that change would lead to his best season in years, a 25-goal, 17-assist campaign that resurfaced the talent the Bruins were waiting for him to tap into.

All he knew going into the season was that, after scoring just 5 goals with 9 assists in an abbreviated 2020-21 season, he had something to prove.

“It was obviously a tough year, and I’d love to be able to take that year back, but I didn’t want to look in the past or even in the future,” DeBrusk said. “Just play my game now and find it again.”

DeBrusk didn't like the idea of putting extra pressure on himself, but he knew he had something to prove this season.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

DeBrusk was still carrying the weight of the previous two seasons. Scoring 19 goals in 2019-20 felt like a step back after he piled up 27 the season before. The word often used to describe him was “streaky,” and it was unclear whether it was meant to be a compliment. He was on the last year of a two-year, $7 million contract and could see himself at a crossroads.


“I think it was a very important year for me in just my career up to this point,” DeBrusk said. “I knew there was a lot on the line.

“In saying that, you don’t want to put too much pressure on yourself. It’s one of those things where obviously coming off a tough year, you’re looking for any positives, especially at the start of the season.”

Mental reset

Coming out of the 2020-21 season, DeBrusk took a different approach to the offseason. Normally, he would go back to Canada as soon as the season ended. Every year, there was a tinge of regret for not spending more time in Boston. This time, he wanted to take all the time he could to regroup. Canada still had tight COVID guidelines. Some teammates stuck around, so he decided to enjoy the summer in the city, too.

“I think it was a really good mental reset for me,” he said. “After the season, sometimes you want to bolt home and get out of the city and in your comfortable environment. But I’m comfortable here too. I’ve always loved this city.”


Staying gave him a different outlook.

“Day-to-day, seeing people outside, they had nothing but love and support,” he said. “I was kind of honestly shocked by that — just from my world that I was living in personally. There’s a lot of people rooting for me. I didn’t necessarily expect any of that.”

That was the start of reframing how he saw himself.

“I had to get my mind right,” he said. “That was my biggest thing last summer was getting my mind right. It took some time, but at the same time, it was nice to be back and I knew I was going to have a better year this year.”

He embraced playing next to Bergeron and Marchand.

“I think it was just the understanding of the opportunity,” he said. “You won’t take it for granted at all. It’s one of those things that before I came into it, I was starting to get hot. I looked at it as the perfect time for me to go because I knew my game was finally starting to come around, come together.

“There were spurts and things like that, but this one just felt different and felt familiar. So I was excited because I knew I would probably get more looks, more opportunities with those guys because of how good they are.”

When streaks came this season, like his run of seven goals in five games in February, he welcomed them.

“Hot streaks, those were things that I hadn’t felt in a while,” he said. “Those kind of things, it was honestly really good for that side of things where I started to feel like myself. It’s one of those things where you can be on the ice, but once you truly believe it and feel that again, you have success.”


When lulls inevitably followed, like the 11-game stretch in which he found the net just once, he continued to find ways to contribute. He felt mature enough to handle the peaks and valleys of a season.

“It’s a little bit like emotional highs and lows, but that’s something that I think this year really taught me to mediate,” he said.

Not looking ahead

He found some security when the Bruins signed him to a two-year, $8 million extension in March, ensuring that he was very much a part of their plans as the trade deadline passed.

After the deadline, he gave the Bruins 10 goals and 6 assists. The disappointment of losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the playoffs was still apparent as the Bruins parted ways for the summer.

But DeBrusk walked away knowing more about where he stood than he did at the start of the season.

“I think it’s kind of interesting to look all the way back,” DeBrusk said. “But I think that my goal last summer was to come back and play my game and find it again and I thought that’s overall what happened. Obviously, not the result that we wanted here. But personally, I did what I wanted to do.”

There may still be some lingering uncertainty about the future, but DeBrusk believes he found his game again this season.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

The future still isn’t something he wants to discuss.

“I haven’t thought about it, to be honest with you,” he said. “It was kind of nice to not think about it there since the deadline.”

This time around, he’ll go to Canada for the summer.

“I’ll go back home with my family and kind of go over the year more thoroughly, I guess,” he said. “Then kind of make my call from there.”

There will be questions waiting for DeBrusk this summer. But he was content with the answers he gave himself on the ice during the year.

“I just think the biggest thing I probably proved was my resiliency overall,” DeBrusk said. “I think just kind of going through obviously a tough year last year, coming in and there’s a lot of question marks there. There’s a lot of unknowns. There’s lots of things I could prove in the regular season.

“I think it was just a matter of me proving that I’m back. That I’m back to normal in that sense of things.”

Julian Benbow can be reached at julian.benbow@globe.com.