Jake DeBrusk said it best following his triumphant third-period performance at the Winter Classic.
Upon approaching the podium with Linus Ullmark, the Bruins’ top-line right winger reflected on a calendar year full of ups and downs. He described his transition from potentially leaving Boston upon his trade request to helping the Bruins earn another classic victory as a “whirlwind.”
Frankly, DeBrusk’s latest outdoor outing was a “whirlwind” in and of itself. The 2015 first-rounder played through significant pain as he notched his equalizer and go-ahead tally against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
DeBrusk left Fenway Park in a walking boot. He apparently took the brunt of a Matt Grzelcyk shot just moments before he notched the tying marker at 7:46 of the third period.
Further details surrounding DeBrusk’s latest ailment became public two days later. While he didn’t reveal a timetable for recovery, Daily Faceoff’s Frank Seravalli confirmed that DeBrusk suffered a fractured fibula during Boston’s 2-1 triumph.
DeBrusk didn’t accompany his teammates for their upcoming three-game California trip. The Bruins will likely encounter a significant timeframe — weeks or even months — without DeBrusk.
Without question, they’ll have a significant hole to fill.
DeBrusk was well on pace for a career season. He’s become a top-line staple with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, transitioning into a speedy, 200-foot player.
“He’s a great guy who wants to get better,” Bergeron said of DeBrusk. “I think it’s been rocky at times for him the last year before that. But that being said, he’s stuck with it and he’s shown some character. We all believe in him. He took it upon himself to work on things in areas where he had to work on, and he keeps doing that. So I’m happy to have him on our side.”
Bergeron wasn’t the only one of DeBrusk’s peers to heap praise in his direction.
Before DeBrusk and Ullmark’s turn at the podium, Jim Montgomery spoke at length on the benefits of coaching a matured and more resolved DeBrusk.
“He’s a lot tougher than people think, and he’s more committed than people are aware of. And because of those things, his game is growing. He’s matured, and you can see it.” Montgomery said of DeBrusk. “I mean, he’s on pace to get over 30 goals. And it doesn’t matter where I use them. He seems to spark the people he plays with.”
Little did Montgomery know that DeBrusk had persevered through a painful but rewarding Winter Classic.
During Wednesday’s session with the traveling media, Montgomery said the Bruins expect a further update on DeBrusk’s status on Thursday.
Replicating DeBrusk’s production on the top line became Montgomery’s top priority ahead of the Bruins’ tilt with the Los Angeles Kings. His first attempt came at Wednesday’s practice, beginning with David Pastrnak’s reunion with Marchand and Bergeron on Boston’s top line. Taylor Hall and Pavel Zacha, who has moved around in the middle of Boston’s forward core, will now flank David Krejci on the second trio.
Fresh off his clubhouse speech during the second intermission, Nick Foligno moved to the third line with Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic. The fourth trio of A.J. Greer, Tomas Nosek and Craig Smith rounded out Boston’s forward depth chart.
The Bruins didn’t carry an extra forward to start their trip. According to BNGProduction’s Mark Allred, the Bruins plan to recall Chris Wagner from Providence. After lasting until the final round of training camp cuts, the Walpole-born forward sits third among the leading P-Bruins goal-scorers.
Regardless, the Bruins’ top-six depth faces a significant test without DeBrusk. Aside from a potential resurgence from Smtih, they don’t have many internal options to even slot into a rotational first or second-line role.
After a slow start to his Boston tenure, Smith found success in the latter half of his first year, primarily on the second line with Krejci and Hall. The veteran winger tends to score in bunches, and another similar run would provide a welcomed development.
Smith, who recently cleared waivers, only has a goal and three assists in 24 games. He’s rotated in and out of the lineup with Greer through the first few months. of the 2022-23 campaign.
Ideally, the Bruins don’t want to rush one of their younger dynamic goal-scorers in Providence. Fabian Lysell, Georgii Merkulov and Luke Topkowski all rank within the top five in points for the Baby B’s but would likely benefit more from further seasoning at the AHL level, even in DeBrusk’s worst-case scenario.
The Bruins hope to receive positive news on the DeBrusk front sooner rather than later. Otherwise, they’ll have to turn to GM Don Sweeney to land one of the prized trade deadline commodities.
A potential transaction placing DeBrusk on long-term injured reserve would provide Sweeney with cap relief. The notable list of rumored top-six wingers on the market includes Patrick Kane, Timo Meier, Vladimir Tarasenko and Brock Boeser, to name a few.
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