The journey through the NHL at times can be surreal for Jake DeBrusk, the Bruins’ fresh-faced 21-year-old forward who flanks center David Krejci on the left wing and is paired with right wing Ryan Spooner on the team’s second line.
When DeBrusk was in training camp prior to the start of his rookie season, he marveled at the way Krejci was able to slow the pace of the game. Forget the fact DeBrusk was just a teenager making his way through the juniors circuit when he watched Krejci win the Stanley Cup. Now he had the chance to make plays with the very same player.
“I’d be open every shot and force it to [Krejci],” DeBrusk recalled.
DeBrusk’s youthful stature has made for some awkward moments, too, such as the time he realized his dad, former NHL journeyman Louie DeBrusk, once punched Bruins ironman defenseman Zdeno Chara in 1998. Louie, who played 401 games for four teams, tangled with Chara, then with the Islanders, when DeBrusk’s father played for the Lightning.
It was also just the second career NHL fight for Chara, a long time before his run as one of the league’s most-feared pugilists.
“On the fathers’ trip him and Zee were talking about it and it was pretty funny hearing those stories,” said the younger DeBrusk, referring to the trip this season when the Bruins had players’ fathers accompany the team on the road to Philadelphia and Nashville.
“The best part was nobody said they won, so it must’ve been a tug of war or something,” DeBrusk said. “[Chara] was still pretty new to it, so [my dad] was thankful for that. He told me one time he was trying to hit him and throwing as hard as he could and hit nothing but air. There are lots of moments like that, where it’s been pretty surreal. The respect factor is one of those things that are earned and I respect everyone of these guys.”
Idols have now become teammates, and DeBrusk is in the process of earning that same respect as he carves out a role for himself on the left wing. He’s the Bruins’ sixth-leading scorer with 11 goals and 15 assists. His 26 points are 3 behind Torey Krug.
DeBrusk’s persistent forecheck sparked Krejci’s goal in last Saturday’s 3-1 win against the St. Louis Blues, a huge rebound for the Bruins after a 3-1 loss to Anaheim. All three players — Krejci, Spooner, and DeBrusk — flooded the crease on Krejci’s second-period goal, a sign of their gritty play on that sequence.
In the last 10 games, the Bruins’ second-line trio has combined for eight goals, one more than Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak, though Marchand is currently suspended.
“We read off each other pretty easily, and we all like to make plays,” DeBrusk said. “It’s just a matter of getting it into the zone, getting some possession, making plays and [against the Blues] it was one of those nights where Spoons and Kretch were making plays and it was a lot of fun to be a part of.
“I’m still learning every day. They’re pretty elite. I’ve been learning how to play their way and just try to help them,” DeBrusk said. “It’s a matter of learning different things throughout the game, talking to them on the bench to see what they’re looking for and thinking differently.
“Won’t be surprised if there are a couple learning curves here and there, but it’s been a lot of fun.”
Indeed, the learning curve can be steep for first-year players, something coach Bruce Cassidy is mindful of. Krejci is at his best when he has fast skaters flanking him, which is what makes the 6-foot, 188-pound Edmonton native a good fit on Krejci’s left. Skating with Krejci also means drawing an opponent’s second-best defensive pairing, and sometimes their first, if a line change is not made in time.
“That’s not easy when you’re young and playing against men,” Cassidy said. “The ability to keep his game consistent — we’ve talked about that with the young guys, and he’s been good with it. It’ll go up and down, but not for too long. I think he’s comfortable with David, understanding what he needs to be down on that wing to draw people to him so [Krejci] can do his thing in the middle of the ice. [He has a] good pace for the game.”
During those dogged days of training camp, DeBrusk at times was stunned to be on the ice with such top-tier players. He knew it was in his best interest to listen and absorb all he could. The difference now is DeBrusk not only understands the advice Krejci has offered, but he now feels like he can add to the conversation.
While there was a time DeBrusk was eager to pass the puck to Krejci, he has found a rhythm and has not hesitated to make a play.
“When you’re open, he’ll hit you 95 percent of the time,” DeBrusk said of Krejci. “I was impressed with him when I first skated beside him, and I still am.”