Jake DeBrusk picks up where he left off for Bruins


“I’ve been waiting for this day for a while.”

Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk celebrates after scoring early in the first period. Barry Chin/Globe Staff

It’s been 47 days since Jake DeBrusk last took to the ice with the Bruins.

Jan. 2, 2023 stood as a highlight of the winger’s six-year NHL career. With two goals in the final 13 minutes of regulation, the 26-year-old DeBrusk was the hero of Boston’s triumph over the Penguins at the Winter Classic.

And then the pain started to set in.

DeBrusk’s late-game contributions at Fenway Park came at the cost of a dinged-up hand and a reportedly shattered fibula, putting Boston’s top-six stalwart on the shelf. 

For over six weeks, DeBrusk had to watch his teammates battle in 17 games without him. Boston went 12-4-1 over that stretch, but DeBrusk’s absence was felt, especially during special-teams play. 

On Saturday evening, Jim Montgomery and the Bruins’ staff finally gave DeBrusk the green light to return.

And after such an extended layoff, DeBrusk was itching for the opportunity to make an impact back on the frozen sheet.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for a while,” DeBrusk noted. “And yeah, I just wanted to get a goal. I just wanted to get the first one.”

It took the fleet-footed forward just 2:19 of game action to accomplish said goal.

Boston’s bottom-six unit did most of the heavy lifting in what was a 6-2 blowout victory over the Islanders at TD Garden. But it was DeBrusk who sparked the B’s scoring salvo, tucking a puck past Semyon Varlamov before many had settled into their seats within the B’s home barn.

“It’s a big-time play he makes,” Montgomery said of DeBrusk’s tally. “Obviously Pastrnak and [Brad Marchand] and [Patrice Bergeron] … if [Bergeron is] not where he is, that puck is cleared. Instead, he gets the puck on, keeps it in zone and then Pasta and Marchy make electric passes. And JD finishes off a great play. The poise in and around the net, he’s high-end.”

A Bergeron wrist shot on Thursday night in Nashville might have snapped what was an 0-for-21 slump for Boston’s power play. But Saturday offered up even more promising returns for the B’s sputtering man advantage.

Key cogs like Bergeron at the “bumper,” Pastrnak at the left circle, and Marchand along the half wall are the implements that make Boston’s top 5v4 unit so lethal. But DeBrusk’s return at the net-front position unlocks even more avenues for the Bruins to dissect an opposing PK structure.

Whether it be his ability to recover loose pucks and feed them back out to the blue line, knack for hovering around Grade-A ice in search of tips and rebounds, or netfront drives that open up space and collapse defensive layers, DeBrusk does plenty of the little things that usually lead to pucks sailing into twine.

“It was a great play by Marchy and even after the goal, it felt a little bit weird to be out there at different times,” DeBrusk said postgame. “It’s one of those things where in the game of hockey, it’s such a high pace and there’s lots of different reads and things. It was a good feeling-out game for sure. It was a big win by our team.”

Beyond his contributions on the power play, DeBrusk’s return should usher in steadier 5v5 production for Boston’s top line. Even though a makeshift forward trio of Bergeron, Marchand and Craig Smith held their own during the first few weeks of DeBrusk’s absence, things started to dry up offensively during Boston’s 1-3-1 lull.

Prior to Boston’s 5-0 win in Nashville earlier this week, Bergeron was mired in a six-game scoring drought. It was the longest stretch of offensive futility for Boston’s captain since November 2016. Marchand was held off of the scoresheet in five straight games.

Now with DeBrusk cleared for action, both Marchand and Bergeron have a proven finisher with a nose for the net back on their line. With that trio reunited, Montgomery has the ability to keep other skilled wingers like David Pastrnak and Taylor Hall further down the lineup in order to achieve scoring equilibrium.

In some respects, DeBrusk’s immediate contributions on Saturday night shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. At least when factoring in his recent body of work.

For most of his career, DeBrusk’s contributions were marked by peaks and valleys in regards to a consistent scoring output. But ever since DeBrusk began earning regular minutes next to Marchand and Bergeron last February, the affable forward is finding his name in the stat sheet early and often.

Bruce Cassidy first slotted DeBrusk up to Boston’s top line back on Feb. 24, 2022. DeBrusk has played in 76 games since then, including seven playoff outings.

And over that nearly season-long sample size, he has scored 35 goals and posted 61 points.

Boston’s forward corps might be paced by franchise stars such as Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak. But DeBrusk’s speed and finishing ability were sorely missed during his 47 days off the ice.

Thankfully for Boston, it doesn’t seem like DeBrusk has missed a step.

“Probably just scoring goals,” DeBrusk said of what he missed the most during his recovery. “I think that’s the biggest thing. But no, just everything with it. It’s one of those things where it’s the camaraderie on the bench. It’s the intense shifts where you’re flying around out there and honestly, just skating fast. It gets a little simple when everything gets taken away from you.”

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