The New York Rangers have not had a great stretch of hockey since returning from the Olympic break, and it is easy for fans to be down in the dumps. When a team is in a rut of negativity, it is easy to avoid the positives, but there is something fans should look at Derick Brassard as a positive to ease their concerns.
Brassard has been up and down since he was acquired by the New York Rangers at last year's trade deadline, but he has shown some promise under Alain Vigneault this season. It is easy to look at Brassard's stats and pass judgment, but here is a better look at what Brassard has brought to the table.
For a huge part of the 2013-14 season, Brassard has been the triggerman on the Blueshirts' best line.
The Chris Kreider—Derek Stepan—Rick Nash line had some success at times this season, but Brassard’s line has arguably been better.
The 2006 first-round pick has been in the middle of Mats Zuccarello and Benoit Pouliot for the majority of the season, and the line has produced despite its limited minutes. Brassard has been averaging a total of 15:35 a game, and that is pretty low for a scoring forward of his stature.
The line has functioned like a third line, but it has been kept together for the power play, an area where Brassard has really thrived with increased minutes.
According to NHL.com, Brassard is third on the team with 16 power-play points, trailing only Derek Stepan and Brad Richards. The Rangers' power play has really thrived this year under Scott Arniel, Brassard's bench boss during his Columbus Blue Jacket days, and Brassard has been a key fixture on the team's second unit.
Brassard is an amazing passer, but he has shown more aggressiveness when it comes to shooting the puck. Of his 129 shots, Brassard has found the back of the net 13 times—six times on the power play— and that puts him on pace for 16 over an 82-game season.
That is a decent performance for a player in a limited role with bottom-six minutes, and it shows that he is capable of more. Some players thrive in low-pressure situations in the bottom six because they get to match up against other teams' third defense pairing, but that hasn't been the case this season.
Prior to the acquisition of Martin St. Louis, Zuccarello was the team's leading scorer. The Hobbit had been pretty unstoppable before he was injured during the Olympics, and other teams were sending out their top pairings in an attempt to shut him down.
Zuccarello is in the midst of the greatest season of his NHL career, and his chemistry with Brassard has played a big role in the Rangers’ success. Brassard has found ways to be successful, and he has adapted well to Vigneault's offensive system.
How would you grade Brassard's season to date?
What this success illustrates is that Brassard is making strides to change his role. Anyone who followed Brassard during his Junior hockey days knows that his bread and butter is playmaking, and he showed that by tallying 143 assists during his time with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL.
However, as mentioned before, Brassard is shooting the puck more, and if scores five more goals he will surpass his career high of 17.
Early in the season it took Brassard some time to adjust, so he still was playing how he played with Columbus and New York under John Tortorella. Brassard is a restricted free agent this summer, and he is poised to have a nice little season in 2014-15.
This is the case because he will be entering the season with amazing chemistry with linemates, he will be more in tune with the system and he will be another year older. The Rangers' center depth is still up in the air, and an amazing training camp next season could propel Brassard into the top six.
He has never had an extended look in the top six with talented linemates, so it will be interesting to see what Brassard could do in that scenario. Brassard is on pace to finish the season with 45 points, or a 0.55 points-per-game average, which would match his average during his last full season with the Blue Jackets.
While the Rangers ultimately want Brassard to be a 55-point or better center, this shows that he is getting closer to developing some consistency. Obviously a player drafted as high as Brassard was— sixth overall in 2006—should be producing better, but the Rangers can look at his play this year as a positive.
What will Brassard's role be next season?
This is fine for now, but next year could be make-or-break for Brassard. It would be in the Blueshirts' best interests to sign Brassard to a two-year deal, because a one-year deal would take him right to unrestricted free agency.
If Brassard has a breakout season at age 27, having an extra year on his contract would add more to his potential trade value if it isn't in the team's future plans. This is only being mentioned because the free-agent class of 2015 is supposed to be amazing.
All in all, Brassard has had a solid season. Things could be better, but they could also be worse. Having 36 points in 66 games may seem light, but you need to look at things in context. As the season continues, Brassard has the potential to be a catalyst for offense, and from an "eyes" perspective, he has made leaps and bounds in overall play on the ice.
He has also helped the power play, all while holding a third-line role.
Watching Brassard has certainly been interesting this year, because even though he hasn't always finished, he has had some amazing chances. Ultimately finishing is what matters, but fans should be excited because there is a chance that Brassard will end up being a better pickup than originally predicted.
All stats unless noted, are via NHL.com