By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
The Boston Bruins locked up their final restricted free agent recently inking forward Jake Debrusk to a two-year bridge deal worth an average annual value of $3.675 million. The jury is still out on whether the 24-year-old can develop into a consistent and elite goal scorer. During the term of this contract, that question should be answered. Inspired by my colleague Max Mainville, who recently did a piece examining how the Bruins scored goals last season, I wanted to take a deeper dive into how Debrusk scores goals. In doing so, I hope to provide insight into what makes Debrusk successful and what he can do to improve on his first three seasons in the NHL.
For this analysis, we will take a look back at every Jake Debrusk goal from the 2019-20 regular season, 19 in total. After reviewing each goal we will make some notes to identify patterns and trends. In particular, we will categorize each goal by location, shot type, and the build-up of play leading up to the goal.
Jake Debrusk 19-20 Goals by Location pic.twitter.com/Knov4UxYUo— BruinsBreakdown (@BruinsBreakdown) December 3, 2020
The six-foot, 188-pound winger does his best work at the net front. Debrusk has a solid touch around the blue paint, scoring 12 of his 19 goals from within a few feet of the goaltender. Even two or three of his off-the-wing goals could be described as the garbage goal variety meaning up to 15 of his goals were scored by getting to the dangerous areas near the cage. Debrusk’s goals from the slot show an ability to find soft space and finish while further emphasizing his need to get to the middle of the ice.
We can see where Debrusk is generating his shots from looking at these spray charts. It continues to affirm where on the ice he is a successful scorer. Debrusk needs to be in the middle of the ice or in and around the goal crease to score. It also highlights areas on the ice where Debrusk is not a scoring threat. Unlike David Pastrnak, Debrusk is pretty harmless from the perimeter.
Jake Debrusk 19-20 Goals by Shot Type pic.twitter.com/IGPAkj1jqq— BruinsBreakdown (@BruinsBreakdown) December 3, 2020
Ten of Debrusk’s goals came from re-directions, tips, or rebounds. Being able to finish consistently in this way puts the winger in a category with Brad Marchand for players on the Bruins who excel at scoring in tight. While David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron can also do so, it is not where they make their money. Debrusk scored a couple of sneaky bad angle goals with his wrister, but it is not a strength for him. Debrusk’s shot types, and lack of assists, also highlight that Debrusk is more a finisher than a driver of play and needs to be placed on a line with a primary puck carrier. Playing with centers David Krejci or Charlie Coyle, Debrusk has the skill set to complement and finish off plays from the silky playmaker or the down-low possession player.
Jake Debruk 19-20 Goals by Build-Up of Play pic.twitter.com/lCd9Aufm9C— BruinsBreakdown (@BruinsBreakdown) December 3, 2020
The power play is important for most goal scorers and Debrusk is no exception. Occupying the space in front of the net for 166 minutes on a potent Bruins’ man advantage led to seven of his goals. Coupled with his four goals scored off of in-zone possession time, 11 of his 19 goals came when his team was settled and working the puck in the zone. Debrusk’s goals off the rush were not of the Phil Kessel variety. They mostly came via rebounds or weak-side tap-ins not dissimilar to his in-zone goals. This is important to note though as a large number of goals in the NHL are scored on the rush or within the first ten seconds of a zone entry when the defensive team is still in scramble mode. Currently, the rush is not the main driver of offense for Debrusk though he is capable of exploiting it on occasion. The turnover category is an important one. While not an overwhelming number, they highlight Debrusk’s ability to force opposition mistakes with his skating, anticipation, and grit.
How Can Debrusk Score More
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way when discussing how Debrusk can score more. This off-season, pundits and Bruins Twitter have frequently pointed to the player’s inconsistency in 2019-20. This is certainly true as the Alberta native took eight games to score his first goal and finished the season with just one tally in his last 14 games. However, other than those two prolonged and brutal slumps he scored at a clip that would be expected. Even during his barren stretches, he was putting shots on the net. Calling a player inconsistent or streaky can sometimes be a lazy take even when like this situation, it is true. It is important to dig a little deeper into the reasons the player was not productive. So what can Debrusk do to avoid those slumps and, in general, be a more productive scorer? After reviewing the data we compiled, there are three distinct areas where the 24-year-old can grow.
Debrusk needs to get bigger and dirtier. Adding weight and strength to his 188-pound frame, undersized by NHL standards, should be a priority. It will allow him to get to, and stay, in the nasty areas of the ice around the net and in the low slot with increased effectiveness. Debrusk himself has stated that he would like to play a tougher and stronger game, gearing this year’s off-season training accordingly. Doing so, without compromising his skating, could lead to a more consistent and explosive season as Debrusk officially enters his prime years.
Building on the concept of playing tougher, Debrusk can also look to channel his inner number 37. Bergeron excels at anticipating plays and using his skills and determination to create turnovers and translate them into offense. Debrusk has shown glimpses of this. If he can grow in this area of his game he will become a more valued two-way player while creating more offense.
Finally, Debrusk needs to improve his shot. If he can become even a mild threat off the rush and the perimeter it will add an additional dimension to his game that right now is lacking. That is not to suggest that Debrusk should change his game in any way but it never hurts to add to the toolbox and be harder to defend. Ideally, it would lead to a lot more of this!
Stats and data courtesy of Hockey-Reference, NHL.Com, Puckpedia, and HockeyViz