Bruins’ Linus Ullmark ‘happy’ to stay, Jake DeBrusk’s next move and Andrew Peeke’s upside

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BOSTON — Saturday, Jeremy Swayman approached Linus Ullmark for their usual post-win hug. Swayman, emotional about Ullmark’s future after his last start, pointed to the TD Garden ice with his blocker multiple times. A camera capturing the goalies’ interaction caught Swayman repeating, “You’re staying.”

Then they hugged. Longer than usual.

“Some games you’re going to take with you a little bit longer,” Ullmark said after the Boston Bruins’ 5-1 win over the lifeless Pittsburgh Penguins. “You’re going to keep it a little bit in the memory bank and you can pull it out from time to time. Same thing there. I got emotional as well when Sway said all these nice words to me. I would have done the same for him if he was in my shoes. It’s tough to talk about. But I’m just so gosh-darn happy.”

The Bruins could have gained futures and cap space by trading Ullmark before Friday’s 3 p.m. deadline. How close that came to happening is unknown.

General manager Don Sweeney declined to answer whether Ullmark exercised his partial no-trade protection. Ullmark also did not address the matter when asked if he prevented a trade from happening. The 30-year-old has never been traded.

“I’m just very happy to be here,” said Ullmark, who signed a four-year, $20 million contract on July 28, 2021. “This is the team that I want to be in. I’m very fortunate to be part of this group. Ever since Day 1, I’ve loved it here. I’m very happy with where I am right now.”

Ullmark is usually a carefree person. Ullmark laughed off the mayhem he ignited when he chose to watch his team’s 4-1 road win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the dressing room instead of on the visiting bench.

But the stress of a possible trade was getting to him. He and his wife Moa are parents to two young children. 

A conversation with Patrice Bergeron earlier this week helped Ullmark clear his mind. He was also moved by a text Charlie McAvoy sent him on Friday.

“Oh thank God, yes,” Ullmark said when asked if he was relieved with the deadline’s passing. “It’s tough. You try to act tough beforehand. You don’t want to show anything. You don’t want to show any emotion. It’s kind of like in the playoff situation as well. But it is tough on players. This is the first time when I had to go through and actually being rumored about. I’ve always felt safe. But then once it actually starts picking up more and more and more, you hear those outside noises, it takes a toll on you. There’s this emotional part of it. Then you start thinking about your family. Then there’s all these questions that you just don’t have any answers to. So yes, I’m very happy that it’s over with. I’m very glad and happy to be here.”

Ullmark had something to prove, then, by standing tall against the Penguins. The only one of 39 shots to beat him was a Kris Letang snapper over his glove. 

“He was our best player. Wasn’t close,” said coach Jim Montgomery. “He was really good. Glad he’s still a Bruin.”

What’s next for DeBrusk?

It is now up to Jake DeBrusk to maximize his worth, whether with the Bruins or elsewhere, with a strong postseason run. The playoffs will determine his fate. Assuming a first-round clash with the Toronto Maple Leafs, DeBrusk could be in position to cash out. DeBrusk scored a goal and three assists over the last two regular-season wins over the Leafs. 

As for DeBrusk’s next contract, Sweeney will continue to talk with agent Rick Valette. Unless something dramatic happens in the playoffs, be it a scoring surge or disappearance, their difference in DeBrusk’s value may not be resolved.

It’s likely, then, that DeBrusk will test free agency. Whether he can find a deal to his liking on the free market remains to be seen. If that happens, the Bruins will use his $4 million average annual value elsewhere.

Projecting Peeke’s upside

Morgan Geekie has grown into a very good No. 3 center. James van Riemsdyk, currently on Geekie’s left flank, has six power-play goals, third-most on the roster. Danton Heinen has played on every line at both wings. Kevin Shattenkirk has been an adequate third-pairing defender. Parker Wotherspoon did well enough as a depth five-on-five defenseman and penalty killer to earn a one-year, $800,000 extension. Jesper Boqvist displaced Johnny Beecher as the No. 4 center.

The performances of the six first-year Bruins prove the organization gets it right more often than wrong when it comes to talent evaluation. With that in mind, Sweeney and his colleagues clearly see flashes of diamond under Andrew Peeke’s 2023-24 carbon.

“There’ll be an adjustment coming into the new structure, the systems we play,” said Sweeney. “But we’re excited about being able to work with him. He’s a bigger body on the right side that’s hard to find. And it’s not a rental. We have that player moving forward.”

Peeke described himself as a physical defenseman who enjoys working in the dirty areas. That translates to playoff hockey. The Bruins would be pleased if the 25-year-old works himself into the three-hole behind Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo on the right side. If not, he’ll be first up when a right-side injury happens.

For now, Shattenkirk is playing well on the third pairing and No. 2 power-play unit. When it comes to the latter, Shattenkirk has settled into his dishing role. Geekie and Pavel Zacha are his preferred options for slot-line passes.

“We’re shooting pucks and creating rebounds, getting teams a little out of their structure so that it opens up those seam plays,” Shattenkirk said. “Whether it’s Morgan on the other side or Pav, I know there’s a shooter over there. If I can get them the puck, they’re going to do something good with it.”

But Peeke is more of a play for the future. Otherwise, the Bruins would not have brought on the $2.75 million he’s due for each of the next two seasons. Peeke will be Shattenkirk’s full-time replacement in 2024-25.

“I just wanted to play hockey,” Peeke said of being limited to 23 games under first-year coach Pascal Vincent. “The past two years I’ve played pretty much every game. Not that you get comfortable, but you get in a routine of doing that. Obviously with how the year went, I just wanted to play hockey.”

Forbort’s untimely ending

By Montgomery’s estimation, he got about 10 games of an all-systems-go Derek Forbort this year. Otherwise, the stay-at-home defender was limited because of groin discomfort and a second undisclosed injury. Forbort, placed on long-term injured reserve on Friday, requires surgery. His season is most likely over.

“Real kudos and a testament to the character of Derek and wanting to be that ultimate team player and play through some significant pain and injuries,” said Sweeney. “But it got to a point where it was not feasible for him to continue to play.”

It is a big loss. A healthy Forbort would have been a third-pairing fixture and Montgomery’s No. 1 left-side penalty killer. Hampus Lindholm will have to assume most of Forbort’s short-handed shifts in the playoffs.

As for the future, Forbort’s time in Boston is likely over. Wotherspoon projects to be his third-pairing replacement. 

Lindholm is back

Lindholm, out for the last eight games because of a knee injury, returned against the Penguins. The do-it-all defenseman played 21:05, recording two assists. 

Lindholm skated well. He was up the ice regularly.

“If you have a few days off, I think the boys will be real mad if you don’t have the legs underneath you,” said Lindholm, who was with Carlo, his usual partner. “The staff here, our trainers and our strength coaches did a great job to keep me in shape here and come back strong.”

Maroon needs time

Pat Maroon is recovering from Feb. 6 back surgery. As such, the left wing has boxes to check before he makes his Bruins debut. Maroon has resumed skating. 

He cannot wait until he pulls on his new jersey. When he played at Oakville High School in St. Louis, Maroon’s jersey was based on the Black and Gold.

“Gives me chills thinking about it,” Maroon said. “I’m really looking forward just to put that jersey over and go out there. I know these fans are very passionate about their sports teams. Just really looking forward to putting that jersey on, go out there and play and work for the guys. My old high school team was the Bruins’ colors. So it felt like it was meant to be.”

(Top photo of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark: Steve Babineau / NHLI via Getty Images)

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