It might be a stretch for Jake DeBrusk to match last season’s 42-goal output, but the 19-year-old winger won’t be losing any sleep over that likelihood.
Since being acquired by the Red Deer Rebels from the Swift Current Broncos in late December, the Edmonton native has steadily improved his two-way game and evolved into more than an offensive force. Quite simply, he’s as comfortable in the defensive zone as he is inside the opposing team’s blueline.
“Last season (with Swift Current) I was scoring lots of goals but I found I was on for a lot of goals for both teams,” he said Thursday.
“I wasn’t necessarily one-dimensional but I found that as the year went on I was getting better defensively.
“I’ve been learning a lot about that part of the game this season and I take a lot of pride in that, especially being here.”
DeBrusk and current linemates Adam Musil and Adam Helewka have displayed that they’re not only capable of filling opposition nets, but are also adept at holding opposing lines in check.
“Our line has been going up against a lot of top lines. We want to shut them down and score a couple on them as well,” said DeBrusk. “That’s something that I take pride in every single game and something that will help me make the jump to the next level. Players who are strong defensively are players who are hard to play against.”
Sutter has been impressed with DeBrusk’s willingness to play hard in all areas of the ice, although he’s not surprised that the Boston Bruins’ first-round selection — 14th overall — in last year’s NHL entry draft has embraced the two-way game.
“He’s a smart player,” said Sutter. “There’s always been the talk of Jake being (mostly) an offensive type player, yet he’s also an intelligent player, a player who understands the game.
“For him to play at the next level he has to be a 200-foot player, someone who can play well in all three zones. He takes pride in that and he’s really worked at that part of his game since he’s been here. I think he’s always had that awareness, but here he doesn’t have to be the guy like he was in Swift Current. He doesn’t have to be the catalyst, he just needs to be one of our top forwards.
“It’s a situation where there’s not all the pressure on him to score and he can learn all the other ins of the game and focus on them.”
DeBrusk attended his first NHL training camp in September and along with the Bruins’ other first-round picks in the 2015 draft — Jakub Zboril and Zachary Senyshyn — failed a fitness test that consisted of six back-and-forth 300-metre sprints to be completed in under one minute per run.
The sprints, however, were run on a wet, slippery surface and Bruins GM Don Sweeney shrugged off the results. He stated that he expects that all three will fare better next year, calling it an “educational process.”
“It didn’t necessarily start out the greatest,” said DeBrusk, “but overall (being at the Bruins camp) was unbelievable, pretty much a dream come true. I learned a lot from the guys. They mixed us (incoming juniors) with veterans, so we got to see what they do day in and day out as pros. I just tried to work hard and learn as much as possible … be a sponge.
“It was pretty cool. I remember being one of the fans watching (Edmonton) Oilers practices and now I was out on the ice and fans were watching me.”
DeBrusk watched Oilers workouts while his father, Louie, was a member of the team over a six-year span. While the younger DeBrusk is willing to play a physical game, he and Louie don’t match up in terms of style.
The elder DeBrusk, a feared fighter and NHL heavyweight, was drafted by the New York Rangers in 1989 and also played with the Tampa Bay Lightning, Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks, but is best known for the time he spent with the Oilers. He racked up nearly 1,161 penalty minutes over the course of his 11-year career.
Despite their differing styles, Jake DeBrusk has found that the advice he’s received from his father — now an analyst on Sportsnet NHL telecasts — has helped him become a better player.
“He’s passed on some things he learned from his training camps, like how to make sure that you’re prepared,” said the Rebels forward.”He gives me pointers here and there and those go a long way.
“He was a different player than I am right now but he watches lots of hockey. He’s analyzing right now so he watches lots of pro games and knows what it takes to get there. Whatever advice he gives me helps give me an extra edge.”
DeBrusk, who last season collected 81 points (42g,39a) with the Broncos and has produced a combined 49 points (17-32) in 43 games with Swift Current and Red Deer this season, is delighted to be part of the 2016 Memorial Cup host team.
“I’ve been really happy and excited every since I got here,” he said. “Red Deer is close to home so my family can see me play a lot more and obviously there’s the Memorial Cup factor and playing for Brent.
“I’m really comfortable here and I’m starting to hit my form. It’s just really exciting and now I’m just looking forward to the home stretch and us pushing for first place (in the Central Division and Eastern Conference). Once we get some bodies back (from injury) we’re going to have a formidable lineup.”
DeBrusk, in all probability, is in the midst of his final WHL season after signing an NHL entry-level contract with the Bruins in November. It’s almost a certainty that he’ll skate with Boston’s AHL affiliate in Providence, N.Y, next season.
“It’s a real treat and an honour,” he said, in reference to his NHL deal. “I’m really happy and proud that they offered me a contract. It’s a good step in my career … a good initial step.”