Sometimes, a fresh start is all someone needs to take off.
Take Elias Lindholm, for example. Lindholm was a solid contributor for the Carolina Hurricanes, averaging out around a 40-45 point pace every season. Before the 2018-19 season, he was traded to the Calgary Flames, where he quickly broke out into a scoring frenzy. He’s scored at a near point-per-game pace since the trade, earning 202 points in 229 games.
In a more recent instance, Taylor Hall had a quick return to form following a trade from the Buffalo Sabres. Before joining the Boston Bruins, the former MVP’s season was one to forget. Once he joined Boston, however, he was quickly able to secure 14 points in 16 games. A fresh start away from Buffalo was just what the forward needed to light a fire beneath him.
Fresh starts can be good for both sides. The organization can open up a space for a new player, and the traded player can hit a hard reset on their lives. This is exactly what Jake DeBrusk of the Bruins needs. The forward, like Hall, has had a season to forget, with just six points in 18 games. He’s been on the receiving end of a handful of healthy scratches throughout his career and his production has declined since his rookie season.
At just 25 years of age, DeBrusk has yet to truly take off — and at this point, that won’t happen in Boston. Could it happen in Detroit, though? Let’s take a deeper dive:
What kind of player is Jake DeBrusk?
Jake DeBrusk’s career is like illusory art. Looking at it from one angle can give you a completely different picture than another. You might look at DeBrusk’s numbers and see a forward who will never quite meet his potential. On the other hand, you might see a scoring winger who has had to battle poor shooting percentages, unproductive linemates, and a slew of other issues. In order to better understand both narratives, a deeper dive into DeBrusk’s NHL career is needed.
DeBrusk’s career started in 2017-18. He thrived on the second line alongside David Krejci and, eventually, Rick Nash. His first two years showed the most promise — a 16-goal 43 point rookie season followed by a sophomore scoring breakout netted him 27 goals and 42 points. Since then, his numbers have steadily dipped, dropping a point the following year, then declining further and further until his career low of 14 points in 41 games last season.
The left winger is a shoot-first, ask questions later forward. When paired with a set-up man, DeBrusk’s potential comes to life. In Red Wings terms, he’s a Diet Anthony Mantha. Take a look at his two-goal game that shut down Toronto a few years back:
His quick snapshot is a major asset to his game — and something that could greatly help Detroit’s offense.
Trading for DeBrusk: the pros
Detroit has been the home of a few reclamation projects. From Robby Fabbri’s resurgence to Marc Staal’s renaissance season, there’s no shortage of players hitting a new gear to their game. DeBrusk could be just what the team needs in terms of a middle-six forward. So far, Detroit’s second and third lines have had on and off games. There are times where they look elite, and others where they’re getting absolutely demolished on the ice. The team’s third line had a fantastic game against Buffalo and one to forget against Boston. A player like DeBrusk could be exactly what they’re looking for.
Having that depth threat can help spread out the scoring across the board. Opponents will have to worry about three lines of offensive talent rather than one and a half. Plus, Jakub Vrana still has yet to return from his injury. With winger depth consisting of Vrana, Raymond, Zadina, Bertuzzi, Fabbri and Debrusk, the team could potentially make some serious moves during the trade deadline. This isn’t even considering prospects like Jonatan Berggren, who appears to be knocking on the NHL door more with each passing game.
The best part is the price tag. With the measurable drop in production throughout the years, general manager Steve Yzerman has an opportunity to buy low. While many teams have asked about DeBrusk, Yzerman and the Red Wings have exactly what the Bruins will be looking for: a roster player. Enter Vladislav Namestnikov. The Russian winger has had one of the best starts to his career, potting seven goals and 12 points in 23 games. He fills the same role that DeBrusk does for the Bruins, but comes at a caveat: he’s cheaper and comes with a high shooting percentage.
Right now, Namestnikov is shooting at 23.3%. Nearly one in four shots on goal wind up in the net. The winger has been a great depth threat for Detroit, but with his contract coming to an end, he’ll be trade bait for would-be contenders. A one-for-one deal for DeBrusk is not only possible, but probable. If the Bruins want to make a push for the Cup, they’ll need space and flexibility to sign additional players. Trading DeBrusk for Namestnikov saves the Bruins $1.675M in cap space — or even $2.675M if Detroit retains salary. A cost-controlled forward with similar output to a roster player sounds like a great deal for both parties.
Trading for DeBrusk: the cons
What if his dip in scoring isn’t mere coincidence? What if this is a sign of a bigger problem? His biggest drop in production came shortly after David Krejci returned to Europe. Without a consistent second-line center, everything from his possession metrics to his shooting took a plunge. Admittedly, DeBrusk’s linemates have been lackluster, but he shouldn’t have to depend on other players in order to generate offense.
An argument can be made that the key to a successful winger is a great center. Having said that, the truly productive middle-six wingers make their own offense when no offense can be found. A good example close to home is Filip Zadina, who has played an outstanding couple games following his demotion to the fourth line. Robby Fabbri, another middle-six forward in Detroit, does everything in his power to make an impact on the ice. From blocked shots to big hits to bigger goals, he’s noticeable every time he plays.
The biggest deterrent toward a DeBrusk trade is the asking price. The Bruins are in win-now mode. They’re trading a young forward with a career high of 27 goals in one season. With so many teams calling on him, general manager Don Sweeney can manufacture a bidding war across the league. The price might wind up being too high to pay for potential. Trading a player like, say, Robby Fabbri for DeBrusk would be a lateral move at best. After all, Fabbri might net even more if he’s traded during the deadline.
Tending an offer for Jake DeBrusk is a low-risk, high-reward situation no matter how you look at it. As long as the price tag doesn’t exceed a player like Namestnikov, the team receives a younger, efficient middle-six player with some untapped potential. At best, the Red Wings secure a depth threat they can either keep or flip for draft capital. At worst, DeBrusk is only signed through the rest of the season, becoming a restricted free agent before 2022-23.
A fresh start is just what DeBrusk needs — and it’s something the Red Wings should try to facilitate.