By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy knows there’s more rookie forward Jake DeBrusk can bring the Bruins in terms of physical play.
There are more checks he could finish along the boards and more battles he could win around both nets.
“When he gets mad he does, so we’ve got to feed him his mean pills I guess every game because that’s something he’s willing to do,” Cassidy said earlier this season. “And there’s an area I think of his game that if the offense isn’t coming, he can contribute.”
Cassidy didn’t have to worry about a dose of “mean pills” for DeBrusk on Saturday.
The Bruins rookie forward, who came up an assist shy of a Gordie Howe Hat Trick in the 3-1 win against the New York Islanders, already had his adrenaline flowing when he showed up at TD Garden a few hours before puck drop.
It seems DeBrusk went to pull out of the parking lot near his home and instead found his car boxed in. With his front and rear sensors blaring the whole time, and his girlfriend coaching him, DeBrusk estimated Monday after practice that it took about 20 minutes to pull out of his spot and make his pregame drive to the rink.
At one point, DeBrusk thought he might have to hit a car in order to escape.
“I didn’t – on the record,” he said.
The 6-foot, 188-pound left wing projects as a power forward who’ll be a fixture in the Bruins’ top six for years to come. With the exception of one healthy scratch and a shift here and there in the bottom six, Cassidy has already shown the confidence in DeBrusk to make him a top-six regular, including skating a lot alongside center David Krejci.
In order to meet his potential in terms of physical play, though, DeBrusk knows he’ll have to more consistently be a physical presence who can affect the game even if he doesn’t score or make a big pass.
But he won’t be able to rely on jerks who don’t know how to park to give him motivation.
“I knew I was ready to go before the game, but obviously you can’t be boxed in every game and I don’t want that,” DeBrusk said. “Finding that edge is something that I’m learning to do. You can do it out of desperation, you can find that in different areas.”
Although he was a late-bloomer size-wise, DeBrusk always had to defend himself. Having the last name of a former NHL tough guy can be a bull’s-eye on a young player’s back. DeBrusk heard it from fans and opponents growing up, and had his share of bigger, older guys trying to challenge him to make a name by saying they fought against a NHLer’s son.
He kept his fight totals low, according to hockeyfights.com – two a year in the WHL and then two more last season in the AHL.
It wasn’t a personal affront, however, that got him into his first NHL tussle on Saturday. Instead DeBrusk responded to a Casey Cizikas hit on Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The bout wasn’t one the 21-year-old is going to break out and show his kids decades from now (86 percent of voters rightly gave the win to Cizikas on hockeyfights.com), but it sent a message DeBrusk isn’t going to let anyone take liberties with a teammate – a message that could resonate with opponents moving forward.
DeBrusk was so fired up, his 17 penalty minutes (including the 15:57 of the second period he spent in the weight room watching the game and chatting with injured teammate Noel Acciari) didn’t slow him down. He scored a highlight reel spin-o-rama goal to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
An “overall happy guy” who’s new to the NHL, DeBrusk said he’s usually a polite driver and hasn’t used his horn more than once — even as he’s been learning to navigate the anarchy of Boston’s roads. As he continues to drive here, he should get meaner, and as he learns how best to use his all-around talents a mean streak should become a perennial ingredient in his game.
Hopefully the Bruins won’t have to hire a jerk to box in DeBrusk every game day.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.