I ranked Jake DeBrusk No. 20 for the 2015 entry draft, saying “Quality scoring prospect. Reminds me of Eberle.” In his first three seasons he averaged 21 goals (he played an average of 68 games), but in 2020-21 scored just five goals in 41 games.
It appears the young winger has arrived at an early career crossroads. Oilers fans have discussed the possibility of acquiring him this summer, and it’s an interesting option to contemplate. One of the things we have to look at is deployment. How was DeBrusk used in 2020-21? How much time did he spend with Boston’s skilled centers? Did he flourish?
I’m proud to be writing for The Athletic, and pleased to be part of a great team with Daniel Nugent-Bowman and Jonathan Willis. Here’s the latest!
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- DNB: Oilers mailbag, part 1
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- Lowetide: The Oilers need to add four wingers to their top nine this summer
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- DNB: Ideal Oilers free-agent targets
- New Lowetide: An early look at the Oilers’ options for the 2021 draft
- New DNB: The pressure is on Oilers GM Ken Holland
- New Lowetide: What now for Ryan Nugent-Hopkins?
DEBRUSK WITH SKILL CENTERS
The Boston Bruins deployed two high-skill centers in 2020-21, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. After that, Charlie Coyle and Sean Kuraly were the main options. The five on five on-ice goal differentials tell part of the story, with Bergeron (46-24, 66 percent) lapping the field with high-event domination. Krejci (29-11, 72.5) and his line won the goal share but the volume wasn’t at ’11’ like the top line.
The third line (Coyle, 19-26, 42 percent) and fourth line (Kuraly, 14-25, 36 percent) struggled badly and (like the Oilers) Boston at five on five could be two different teams depending on what line was on the ice.
How did DeBrusk do with each center in 2020-21?
- DeBrusk with Bergeron: 0-1-1 in 52 minutes (1.15 pts-60), 2-2 goals (50 percent)
- DeBrusk with Krejci: 2-1-3 in 103 minutes (1.76 pts-60), 4-0 goals (100 percent)
- DeBrusk with Coyle: 1-2-3 in 164 minutes (1.09 pts-60), 4-5 goals (44 percent)
- DeBrusk with Kuraly: 0-2-2 in 67 minutes (1.78 pts-60), 3-6 goals (33 percent)
DeBrusk with Krejci would have been worth pursuing but the Hall trade and Boston’s issues with DeBrusk’s play (going back some time) meant a regular shuffling of lines for the talented winger.
In the three seasons previous to last year, DeBrusk scored 31-30-61 in 1782 five on five minutes with Krejci (that’s 2.05 pts-60) with an on-ice goal differential of 82-57 (59 percent).
Those are good numbers. Now, Krejci is older, so wasn’t delivering last year as he had in the past (until Taylor Hall arrived), but DeBrusk has ability and can fill a role as a complementary scorer.
What didn’t Boston management like about DeBrusk?
It’s important not to overstate it, the Bruins clearly value the player and his performance against the Washington Capitals showed his value even in a tough year. Fluto Shinzawa at The Athletic wrote a revealing piece that is a powerful read on the subject.
DeBrusk is a streaky scorer (hello Eberle!) and that can frustrate in a short playoff series or an important part of the regular season. He appeared to be more a perimeter player this past season, that may be a reason his power-play time (which fell from 2:33 to 1:25 per game) was cut in half.
For me, I’d like to make sure the Oilers have a RH center to run with DeBrusk as a safety valve. The last Bruins winger who played with Krejci and then came to Edmonton seemed to miss that element of the game.
OILERS CENTERS V BRUINS CENTERS
- McDavid line 64-48, 57 percent Bergeron line 46-24, 66 percent
- Draisaitl line 22-16, 58 percent Krejci line 29-11, 73 percent
- Khaira/Turris 21-33, 39 percent Coyle line, 19-26, 42 percent
- Haas/Shore/McLeod 17-32, 35 percent Kuraly, 14-25, 36 percent
I’m using centers as proxy for lines, it’s a little cleaner with the Bruins. Kind of hilarious that we spend so much time talking about the third and fourth line improvement and the Bruins are just hammering opponents with their top two lines (68 percent goal differential). Edmonton’s top two lines are good (57 percent) but there’s room to grow. Both teams need to work on their respective bottom lines.
Montreal’s win last night featured fine goaltending and effective defense. Plenty of talk about getting bigger and defending better, but those things have always had value. What has changed is the need to be able to pass the puck and make quick decisions.
That’s why Jeff Petry is such a valuable player. It’s also one reason why Darnell Nurse has been more effective recently, as his passing improved (more accurate, better touch) markedly in 2020-21. He also improved in hitting corners with his shot, a big factor in his goal-scoring spike.
Montreal has intelligent defensemen. Edmonton has intelligent defensemen too, and a nice variety of talents. Ethan Bear is undersized but battles, and can pass very well. Adam Larsson had a GA/60 at five on five of 1.99 in 2020-21, and much of that came against elite competition. Shea Weber is 2.2, Jeff Petry 2.36, all fine numbers.
Ken Holland drafted Philip Broberg and speaks highly of Dmitri Samorukov. He also values Evan Bouchard. Goal and shot suppression is important, but so is getting that puck out of the zone under control.
Benson’s career in the NHL appears poised to get underway for real this fall, and it’s interesting to see so many experts suggesting Sam Steel (who was coming up in the Edmonton minor hockey system at the same time as Benson) will be made available by the Anaheim Ducks.
Timing is everything, and no one can argue Benson isn’t well prepared to compete for an NHL job. Increasingly, I think the Oilers will give him a full shot at establishing himself in the world’s best league. If you’re going to invest that kind of time in a player, best see how he shines before making a drastic decision.