By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — In a rare moment of transparency Thursday, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney acknowledged a hard truth about prospect Jake DeBrusk’s first pro season last year.
Although DeBrusk may have helped the Bruins when they needed offense much of last season, the Bruins placed DeBrusk’s future value as an all-around mature player capable of reaching the NHL and sticking ahead of short-term benefits for the NHL club.
Ten Bruins, including six forwards, made their NHL debuts during the 2016-17 regular season, but DeBrusk remained in the AHL all season.
“Jake, at times, was in discussions,” Sweeney said before DeBrusk and a roster of some of Boston’s best prospects departed for a tournament in Buffalo. “He played well, he was very productive at times where we were struggling and we certainly considered it, had a lot of discussions internally about it. Ultimately we felt that he may be better served in the long term just to continue the strong year that he was having as opposed to coming in [here]. He was capable of playing … and probably merited it, but the overall big picture was probably better served to stay where he was and have the strong impact year he had.”
DeBrusk, who’ll turn 21 next month, didn’t let the disappointment of not getting called up derail his season. Adversity came early for DeBrusk, who scored just four goals in his first 27 professional games on an astounding 86 shots.
With the support of his teammates and coaching staff, DeBrusk continued to plow forward despite the shoddy results. He finished the season with 49 points (19 goals, 30 assists) in 74 games. In the postseason, he had nine points (six goals, three assists) in 17 games.
“I can’t really complain too much but I think that the whole year of development really helped me overall to just get where I am today,” the 6-foot, 183-pound DeBrusk said. “I think that me grinding it out last year is really going to help me out in this camp. Just personally, it gives me lots of confidence, lots of comfortability with everybody around. It’s obviously tough when you don’t get called up at any moment, but there’s 20 other guys that didn’t get the call-up as well.”
DeBrusk said that in addition to finding the back of the net in the second half of last season his first year of pro hockey helped him get better in his own end, a skill that every team values. It may be little consolation to DeBrusk that Sweeney admitted the 2015 first-round pick (No. 14) was ever so close to getting called up, but the GM’s statement may be a message that with the right type of camp DeBrusk could get an early season look over some players that have already experienced the NHL.
That could propel him to get off to a great start beginning with the 2017 Prospects Challenge.
“That’s for sure something that just being competitive that creeps in your mind,” DeBrusk said. “I would say it’s more so just the fact that I haven’t played a game yet. It’s still one of those things that I’m going to do whatever it takes to get there. I played with lots of guys that have played now, and just getting experiences from them, I think now it’s one of those things where I got to go earn it and earn my spot to get my turn. It’s going to be really exciting and I’m looking forward to it.”
After seeing up close what it takes to be a pro and how the pros work out, DeBrusk returned to his native Edmonton this summer and tweaked his gym workouts and skating regimen. For a couple of weeks before he left for Boston, DeBrusk skated with several players from the Edmonton area, including former Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk.
“I love Johnny. He tried to drop the gloves a couple of times on the ice. He’s awesome,” DeBrusk said. “And he was raving about how cool Boston is. It gets me even more excited to hear it from a former player who won a Cup with them.”
DeBrusk is so close to achieving his dream and with the right accomplishments this fall, Sweeney and his staff won’t have any choice but to tab DeBrusk for the Bruins’ roster.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.