What Bruce Cassidy wants to see out of Jake DeBrusk in top-line role

Curtis Lazar moves in to congratulate Jake DeBrusk after his goal against the Colorado Avalanche on Feb. 21, 2022, in Boston. AP Photo/Winslow Townson

SEATTLE — The fallout of Brad Marchand’s impending return from his six-game suspension began Wednesday.

Marchand didn’t practice on Wednesday because of a personal family matter. But he’ll arrive in the Emerald City on Wednesday night and take his usual spot next to Patrice Bergeron on the top line for Thursday’s Bruins-Kraken matchup at Climate Pledge Arena.

Marchand’s impending arrival left Bruce Cassidy and the coaching staff with significant lineup decisions to kick off their six-game road trip. The Bruins opted to keep Craig Smith with Trent Frederic and Charlie Coyle on the third line after a solid stretch of games together. They didn’t want to move David Pastrnak away from Taylor Hall and Erik Haula even after Pastrnak and Hall spent the last three games on the top line with Bergeron.


So the Bruins turned to Jake DeBrusk to move to his off-wing and skate with the potent Bergeron-Marchand duo.

Things appeared trending toward a Marchand-Bergeron-DeBrusk trio after Boston’s pair of victories over the lowly Ottawa Senators (in overtime) and the high-octane Colorado Avalanche (a marquee 5-1 triumph). A productive conversation with DeBrusk regarding his assignment allowed Cassidy to give the 2015 first-round selection a shot with a pair of potential enshrinees in hockey’s hallowed halls in Toronto.

“Sometimes it’s tough when you go in with two guys who are arguably Hall of Famers,” Cassidy said. “We had a good discussion about that. Was that something that would take him away from his game or help build his game? He should have a say on that. We had that conversation. I think he would like to give it a go and see where it leads. Sometimes the chemistry happens and sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s how we’re going to try it for now.”

Cassidy asked DeBrusk to move to his off-wing frequently last season. DeBrusk hardly looked comfortable at either wing during the worst campaign of his five years in Boston.

DeBrusk became a frequent subject of trade speculation over the last 18 months. The rumor mill intensified after DeBrusk’s trade request became public in late November.


The Edmonton native upped his trade value over the last few months skating primarily in a bottom-six role. His production isn’t on par with the 62 goals he produced over his first three seasons, but he’s already surpassed last year’s career lows (14 points in 41 games), notching nine goals and seven assists through 45 games.

DeBrusk’s effort hardly came into question aside from a recent rough patch with Bergeron and Marchand out of the lineup. He’s produced quality primary and secondary scoring chances in the attacking end. Defensively, he’s provided solid work along the walls and in the neutral zone.

Now Cassidy hopes DeBrusk carries his high motor over upon his promotion to the top line. And perhaps DeBrusk will receive a scoring uptick from his 16 points in 45 games (nine goals, seven assists).

“He has to bring those attributes that he brings best — speed,” Cassidy added. “He’ll create some turnovers on the forecheck because they’re a line that will play both off the rush and the puck pursuit. What we ask of anyone on that line is to make sure to hang on to pucks — they’re a good cycle line — and pursuing second effort on pucks.

“Defensively, I think Jake’s habits have been a little more consistent in terms of stick position and D zone. So we’ll remind him of those [habits] and correct them when we need to. You’re going up against good players so mistakes can go in your net quicker. That’s what typically happens when you’re on the top two lines, so that will be another area.


Without last change, the Marchand-Bergeron-DeBrusk trio will have some tough matchups ahead against other teams’ top lines and defensive pairs. But DeBrusk isn’t a stranger to facing potent scoring trios.

On Monday, the Bruins trotted out the fourth line of DeBrusk, Curtis Lazar, and Tomas Nosek frequently against Colorado’s potent top trio of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. They held their own in the tough 5-on-5 assignment and got the better of them late in the second period on DeBrusk’s second tally in as many games.

“We’ve used him with Nosek and Lazar against good lines, and he was really good on that [fourth line] too. That part of it we’re not worried about,” Cassidy said. “When he’s on, he’s a good all-around player.”

DeBrusk wants to prove he belongs in a top-six role even if it’s his final act in Boston. With Bergeron and Marchand, he’ll have a significant chance to prove himself worthy of that assignment.


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