By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Jake DeBrusk was at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Arizona the night Rick Nash brought the hockey world to its feet.
The rookie Bruins forward saw the former Columbus sniper turn two Phoenix Coyotes defenders into pylons with two major toe drags and then deke the goalie out of his skates on his way to one of the most beautiful game-winning goals ever scored Here’s the YouTube if you are unconvinced.
Ten years later, DeBrusk is two games deep into what could be a lengthy run as Nash’s linemate with David Krejci sandwiched in between for the Bruins. All three members of that trio had a hand in the Bruins’ first goal in their 4-3 overtime win against Carolina on Tuesday.
“It’s pretty special. Obviously when you have a guy who has 800 points, and Krech, on a line it’s pretty special. I’m trying to do whatever I can to stay on that line. It’s special and he’s a special player,” DeBrusk said Wednesday at Warrior Ice Arena.
After that win against the Hurricanes, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy touched the third rail of comparing an improving young player to a future Hall of Famer when he said DeBrusk “looked like a smaller version of Rick Nash.” That’s a heck of a way to raise the bar on the 21-year-old DeBrusk’s expectations.
But the Bruins aren’t asking DeBrusk to be Rick Nash right now, although they wouldn’t mind if he develops into something close to a second coming. And that’s the other effect Nash’s arrival in the Feb. 25 trade with the New York Rangers can have. At 33 and with 800 NHL points on his resume, there are things Nash can teach the younger Bruins, especially DeBrusk, even if the potential unrestricted free agent is in black and gold just a few months.
The obvious thing is puck protection, a department in which Nash may be unmatched. Then there’s the way Nash generates speed despite carrying 211 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame. DeBrusk may not get there size-wise but he’s still a big man that may still be growing, and as his career unfolds he’ll be asked to do a lot of the things Nash has been asked to do for 15 years and will be tasked with for the Bruins.
“He’s a beast. He’s a beast down low,” DeBrusk said of Nash. “I noticed it especially in Buffalo [on Sunday]. There were a couple pucks he got down low and it’s absolutely impossible to get it from him. I’m trying to learn because I don’t think I play a similar way as him because he’s special, but I obviously want to be a player like him. Just watching how he kind of navigates and how he gets his shot off, there’s lots to learn. I’ve learned a lot from Krech and I’m learning a lot from him.”
Cassidy likes the idea of a mentoring relationship between DeBrusk and Nash for as long as Nash is with the Bruins.
“Well they’ve got some similarities you’re starting to see. They can get going in open ice, make plays and score. They attack defensemen, you love that in forwards,” Cassidy said. “It’s difficult to play against. So I think it will benefit him whether he’s on the same line with him or not, just watching what he does at ice level.”
DeBrusk’s second pro season, and first NHL campaign, hasn’t been a cake walk. He was a healthy scratch Nov. 11 and then missed three games with an upper-body injury a few weeks later. Overall, he has 32 points (12-20-32) in 57 games played. There have been nights when he’s had his ice time cut to nine or 10 minutes. But Cassidy never confines DeBrusk to the doghouse for long, always going back to the speedy left wing by the next game. That’s because Cassidy realizes DeBrusk’s potential, and that the rookie quickly understands where he’s coming up short and needs to improve.
DeBrusk admits he’s still learning how to be a pro and deal with the rigors of schedule. He’s watching what he eats, figuring out how much sleep he needs and how often he needs to unwind away from the game or immerse himself in it.
If Tuesday night was any indication, he’s figuring things out just in time for the stretch run of the regular season. In addition to his assist on Nash’s goal and his helper on Tommy Wingels’ game-tying goal, Nash had three hits and was motoring around the ice so fast he literally took off and flew after a scoring chance that ended with a Scott Darling save and DeBrusk crashing into the end wall. He came out injury-free.
“It seems that the second half of the year, throughout my whole career, even junior and throughout now, I just find I get more comfortable with things and it seems that pucks tend to find their way in the net,” DeBrusk said. “That’s nice and I want to keep that going obviously and I know that I can do it. So just trying to stay in that line and try to complement them.”
If his most recent second-half surge continues, DeBrusk should complement that line just fine. And maybe he’ll score some goals that Nash’s kids will remember 10 years from now.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.