Building off a breakthrough: Jake DeBrusk

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Boston Bruins.

It’s a decision – or maybe three decisions? – that could haunt the Boston Bruins for more than a decade.

A new management group received a golden opportunity to build for the future with picks 13, 14, and 15 in the 2015 NHL Draft. History will probably argue that those were more like three strikes, as the Bruins decided not to draft Mathew Barzal, whom the New York Islanders jumped on immediately afterward with pick 16.

As of this moment, Barzal’s scored almost twice as many points (85) as the Bruins’ three combined picks (43), while appearing in several additional games (84 to 70). Barzal’s highlight-reel skills are often used to lampoon the Oilers for sending the Islanders the picks to grab the 2018 Calder Trophy winner, yet Bruins fans may also be tormented by what could have been.

The 2017-18 season didn’t just rub salt in the wounds regarding that pick, though.

[Looking Back at 2017-18 | Under Pressure | Three questions ]

While the other two picks (Jakub Zboril at 13, Zachary Senyshyn at 15) have yet to appear in an NHL game, Jake DeBrusk represents all of the stats in the aforementioned comparison: he scored 16 goals and 43 points in 70 games to enjoy a very promising rookie season.

DeBrusk also enjoyed a taste of playoff success, something Barzal may not experience for some time if the Isles can’t get it together. During the Bruins’ up-and-down run, DeBrusk scored eight points in 12 playoff contests, including the Game 7 tally that stood as the clincher against Toronto.

Such composed play against Toronto drew plenty of praise:

While DeBrusk, 21, enjoyed cushy offensive zone starts that undoubtedly helped him achieve strong possession stats, it’s worth noting that he scored at a very nice clip despite averaging just 14:22 TOI per game in 2017-18.

Stanley Cup of Chowder notes how well DeBrusk checks out under Evolving Wild’s evolving metrics, as just one example. It remains to be seen if he’s a high-end talent or “just” a very nice supporting cast member for the Bruins, but either way, the scorer’s ascent is a fabulous plus.

DeBrusk presents something for old-school fans, not just analytics-types, as he already authored something of a “warrior” shift. It’s the sort of stuff that might make your old man fight back tears.

Considering DeBrusk’s ability to make the most of his reps so far, not to mention the chemistry he already developed with David Krejci, it would only make sense for the Bruins to lean far more heavily upon the young forward more in 2018-19.

(Amusingly, in the backdrop of almost unavoidable criticisms of that draft-day approach in passing on Barzal, the Bruins’ knack for otherwise shrewd draft and development may provide DeBrusk with competition for more lucrative opportunities.)

Yes, it’s unlikely that DeBrusk will surpass Barzal over the long haul. Even if it’s close, grumpy types will note that the Bruins could have drafted them both.

Nonetheless, a youth movement really injected renewed vigor into a Bruins franchise that seemed to show signs of decline late in Claude Julien’s run. Part of that might come down to Bruce Cassidy being more willing to let wet-behind-the-ears players show that they can produce beyond their years. The rest can be chalked up to emerging talent, and DeBrusk stands among the better examples of the gems management unearthed.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.

Kuzmenko signs 2-year extension with Canucks

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Forward Andrei Kuzmenko signed a two-year contract extension with the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday.

The deal has an average annual value of $5.5 million.

The 26-year-old Kuzmenko has played in 47 games for the Canucks this season with 21 goals and 22 assists, four penalty minutes and a plus-4 defensive ranking.

Kuzmenko ranks second on the team in goals and power-play goals (nine) this season.

His 43 points are also tied for third on the team in overall scoring, while his 32 even-strength points (12 goals, 20 assists) are second on the Canucks.

Kuzmenko leads all Vancouver skaters in shooting rate (24.7%) and ranks third in the NHL in that category (minimum of 20 games).

He leads all first-year NHLers in almost every offensive category, including goals, assists, points, points per game (0.91), power-play goals, and power-play points.

He has also had 14 multi-point games so far this season (second most on the Canucks), highlighted by his first-career NHL hat trick and season-high four-point game against Anaheim on Nov. 3.

A native of Yakutsk, Russia, Kuzmenko spent his first eight professional seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) with CSKA Moscow and SKA St. Petersburg, getting 200 points (85-115-200) in 315 regular-season games. He set career highs in goals (20), assists (33), and points (53) last season, ranking second in the league in scoring.

Kuzmenko has also represented his country on the international stage on multiple occasions, totaling 16 points (10-6-16) and six penalty minutes in 37 games played. He was originally signed by Vancouver to a one-year, entry-level contract on July 13, 2022.