Jake DeBrusk’s elite transition offense would provide new element for Maple Leafs

Photo credit:Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Arun Srinivasan
1 month ago
Jake DeBrusk and the Toronto Maple Leafs have mutual interest ahead of free agency via Nick Alberga of The Leafs Nation. It would almost seem unthinkable to see DeBrusk in a Maple Leafs uniform, but we have reason to let our imaginations run away with us. DeBrusk’s antics — namely, baiting Nazem Kadri into a cross-check that sealed his Maple Leafs’ tenure — haven’t played well in this market, but he provides elements that Toronto has been sorely lacking.
If you’re averse to DeBrusk because of his past clashes with the Maple Leafs, you may want to skip over some of the select video clips, but this piece essentially highlights what he does well. DeBrusk is a monster in transition, finishing 11th in rush attempts at 5-on-5 during the 2022-23 season, while ranking T14th in rush attempts last year via Natural Stat Trick. You could argue it’s a function of the Bruins’ counterattacking principles under Jim Montgomery but DeBrusk punishes opponents for their mistakes, takes off and puts defenders on their heels. He’s a good forechecker but he’s not exactly going to drive possession, he’ll drive you crazy instead and his style of play would likely lend itself well to Craig Berube’s tactics and temperament.
We’re not here to relive your pain at The Leafs Nation, but here’s a pretty clear example from a Nov. 2 Maple Leafs-Bruins contest. Brad Marchand wins a puck back as the Maple Leafs fumble at the blue line, and away they go. DeBrusk follows up, crashes the net and no one picks him up as he scoops the rebound effortlessly.
If we’re looking merely through anecdotal points — or more clearly, how DeBrusk has tortured the Maple Leafs — Game 1 of this year’s playoffs is a shining example. DeBrusk crushed the Maple Leafs in transition, finishing with two goals and an assist. He can score in set offensive plays as well with an underrated snap shot, and one can imagine himself aligned next to Auston Matthews, constantly pouncing on opponent mistakes and benefiting from No. 34’s gravity effect.
DeBrusk actually ranked below the 50th percentile in top speed among all players during the regular season via NHL Edge — a result that we accept but hasn’t aligned with the eye test. It’s the next stat that’s more telling: DeBrusk ranks in the 78th percentile of players with bursts over 32 kilometers per hour and he’s in the 91th percentile of bursts from 29-32 KPH. It’s clear that DeBrusk is adept at reserving his top gear for flying out in transition or closing out on opponents, rather than jetting around the ice in top gear at all times.
If you’re looking for a proven playoff performer, DeBrusk ticks that box. It’s an interesting prism to evaluate through the lens of Boston’s hyper-successful sporting ecosystem: perhaps the Bruins don’t view themselves as a success, after getting ousted in the first round of the 2023 playoffs following an all-time regular season, or the 2019 Final loss where DeBrusk arguably had his breakout summer. In a city where a 64-win Boston Celtics team with a 11.4 point differential with the NBA’s most efficient offense ever just won the NBA title, there could be a perception that DeBrusk wasn’t considered a winner, when he’s won pretty much everything except for the elusive Cup.
This has been promised to be a summer of change, from management, from journalists, from those of us here at The Leafs Nation and from you, the fans and readers. What better way to invoke change than to get a key component of a divisional rival that has tormented the Maple Leafs for the better part of a decade? DeBrusk appears to be a natural fit on and off the ice, and we’ll have to see if the Maple Leafs prioritize him, while managing ongoing discussions with pending free agents Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi.

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