Jake DeBrusk hopes to avoid free agency, re-sign with Bruins


“It’s the only team that I know and the team that I grew up with.”

Boston Bruins Jake DeBrusk during practice before they play the Pittsburgh Penguins in tomorrow's Winter Classic at Fenway Park.
Jake DeBrusk was on pace for 35 goals over 82 games last season. Matthew J. Lee / Globe Staff

Jake DeBrusk is looking at a hefty pay raise next summer.

The 26-year-old winger elevated his stock following a breakout season for the Bruins in 2022. Over an 82-game pace last season, DeBrusk was projected to score 35 goals and post 64 points — a new benchmark in scoring that was thwarted due to a broken fibula suffered during the 2023 Winter Classic.

Add in a blossoming defensive game and increased reps on both the power play and penalty kill, and the top-six stalwart will inevitably command a salary beyond the $4 million he’s expected to earn this year in Boston.

Jake DeBrusk developed into a strong two-way player during the 2022-23 season for Boston.

But with unrestricted free agency looming next summer, DeBrusk hopes that he doesn’t have to go very far in search of long-term security (and a raise).

“I’m hoping to stay [with the Boston Bruins],” DeBrusk told NHL.com’s Derek Van Diest on Tuesday. “It’s the only team that I know and the team that I grew up with. Hopefully it goes in that direction, and we’ll see how it goes. That’s why I have an agent {Rick Valette), and I told him I wanted to stay out of this one and in time, it’ll be nice when it all gets done.”

Even though next summer will mark the first time in his career that DeBrusk will become an unrestricted free agent, both he and his representatives are no strangers to contract negotiations or potential player movement.

After his entry-level deal expired, DeBrusk inked a two-year, $7.35 million extension with Boston in November 2020 before signing off on another two-year, $8 million deal back in March 2022. At the time of his latest contract signing, DeBrusk had a standing trade request in place.

“It’s not my first time going through this. It’s my third time my contract is up with them,” DeBrusk said. “I kind of know what to expect, although it’s a little bit different with now being a UFA. I’m not too focused on that. I’ve kind of tested the waters before and I’m just going to focus on hockey.”

Ultimately, DeBrusk rescinded his trade request prior to the start of the 2022-23 season and emerged as a top-six player for Boston. Even though his fibula injury in January put him on the shelf for over six weeks, DeBrusk played a key role in Boston’s record-setting season last year, earning most of his reps on a top line next to Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

“Last year when I got injured in the Winter Classic, I was just really starting to come into my game, so it made me a little bit angry because I thought I was going to go on kind of a heater there, which probably would have ended up being 30 or 35 (goals),” DeBrusk said. “But it’s easy to say that, and everyone starts at zero and you go from there.

“If I stay healthy, I think I can score 30 this season. I’ve knocked on the door twice with 27 (also in 2018-19), and I have 25 in there as well (in 2021-22). I think if I stay healthy, that’s obviously the goal, to finally get to that 30 mark.”

The Bruins will welcome a 30-goal season for DeBrusk, given the amount of talent that has been sapped from Boston’s forward corps this summer.

Along with the retirement of both Bergeron and David Krejci, Boston lost a couple of potential top-six regulars on the wing after trading Taylor Hall and losing Tyler Bertuzzi in free agency.

“There are a lot of different expectations, especially with everything that’s changed with the center position,” DeBrusk said. “Losing Bergy and Krech, those are pretty big losses. In saying that, I think there were a lot of people who didn’t think we were going to make the playoffs last season, and so we’re back in the same position.”

If DeBrusk can finally hit that 30-goal threshold in 2023-24, it should help alleviate some of Boston’s concerns in the top-six unit, especially with the Bruins placing more responsibility and reps on the shoulders of centers in Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha.

Given Don Sweeney and the Bruins’ preference to avoid letting key assets hit free agency, it wouldn’t come as much of a surprise if negotiations ramp up between the team and DeBrusk’s camp next month once players report to Warrior Ice Arena.

The eight-year, $52 million deal that Brandon Hagel struck with the Lightning last week could be a solid starting point in negotiations. 

But as the Bruins look to build a new core of talent for the post-Bergeron era, keeping a potential 30-goal scorer in his prime like DeBrusk seems like a given, especially given the winger’s reluctance to hit the open market.

“You start from Game 1, just like any other season,” DeBrusk said of his outlook for this upcoming season. “You want to build your game and you want to improve on what you can do out there and try to earn more opportunity.

“I think it’s one of those things where we’re not really concerned with what people say about our team. I think we’re a pretty solid group, we have lots of guys that are there that got us to that point, (and) we added a couple of guys at the deadline. Some guys that have left does change things, but I’m focused on Game 1. It’s the only way to do it.”