Derick Brassard was a wunderkind for the New York Rangers last season, but this year he has had a poor start. After his strong performance with the Blueshirts in 2012-13, it was expected that Brassard would be the team's second-line center. But this year, he has been relegated to the third line.
In a system that promotes offense, it would be logical to think that a player with Brassard's skill set would thrive offensively, but that hasn't been the case thus far in 2013-14. So 20 games in, why is Brassard failing to meet expectations early on this season?
Unfortunately, Brassard has been an inconsistent player his entire career. The Hockey News describes Brassard as a talented forward with upside who's inconsistent, and it is true.
Head coach Alain Vigneault addressed Brassard's play earlier in the month, and his words are still relevant today. Via the Rangers' YouTube page:
So far I think he has shown a little inconsistency in his overall play. At some moments you see signs of top-end skill and at other moments you see top-end skill not executing, like on the first goal last night. He has the puck—no pressure—he can skate it, he can make an easy outlet pass, but for whatever reason, he doesn’t execute the play that needs to be executed at that time. We need to get that part of his game in order, and if we do that, he is a good skill player that has a lot to bring to the table.
As good as Brassard was during his time with the Blueshirts last season, he was equally bad with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Here is a breakdown of Brassard's of 2012-13 campaign.
As you can see, in a short time with the Rangers, he thrived, but he was pretty bad with the Blue Jackets. Brassard's resurgence with the Rangers could be described as a player embracing a new situation and thriving on adrenaline, or it could be another instance of him producing after slumping.
Another possibility is that Brassard is being utilized differently under Alain Vigneault than he was under John Tortorella. Torts loved using "Brass" in multiple situations, and he was even the team's top center and power-play quarterback during the final weeks of the season and playoffs.
However, this year, Brassard is only averaging 15:51 a game, a decrease from the 16:38 he averaged with the Rangers last season.
Additionally, Brassard is averaging 2:30 on the power play, a decrease from the 2:50 he averaged last season. Although the time seems minimal, it equates to missing a couple of shifts. Those extra shifts would give the Rangers pivot an opportunity to generate offense, something he hasn't done a lot of this year.
Brassard is also playing with less talented linemates this year, and that is also stunting his offensive production. Last season, Brassard was playing with wingers such as Rick Nash and Ryane Clowe, but this year, he has been paired with Taylor Pyatt and Derek Dorsett. That is a big depreciation in talent, and it could explain why Brassard is only averaging 0.35 points per game.
Brassard's bread and butter is his passing ability, so it would be understandable if his offense was being stunted because of linemates that can't finish.
Although this might be the case, it still isn't an excuse, because Brassard has shown glimpses of brilliance this year, but he has been unable to make it last over a stretch of games. He clearly has the talent to be an impact player, but he is going to have to be better for the remainder of the season.
If Rick Nash is back in the lineup this week, it could lead to Vigneault making line changes, and that could put Brassard in a position to play with Nash.
It would be unwise for Vigneault to break up the current line of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello, so that would open the door for Brassard to center Nash. The above is just speculation, but it would be a way to get Brassard's game going again.
Brassard will be a restricted free agent at the end of the upcoming season, and if he wants to remain a Ranger moving forward, he will need to be more like the Brassard of the playoffs from 2012-13.
Unless noted, all stats are from NHL.com.