Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Behind the Numbers: Derick Brassard

Upon first glance, it is not hard to write off Derick Brassard's second full season in the NHL. With one of the teams worst +/- ratings to this point, Brassard has struggled to find his form inside the Hitchcock system. He has also fallen short of management's expecations of playing alongside Rick Nash and Kristian Huselius on the top line. Brassard is a prime candidate for skeptics when hunting for scapegoats, considering the only unmoving position on the top line has been at center.

But what exactly defines a bad season? Brassard is far from a checking forward, standing a mere 6'0 and weighing in just slightly over 170lbs. His assets are his ability to see the ice, move the puck, and move with the puck, and unfortunately, these assets are considered second rate in the style that Columbus has been trying to mimmick for the last couple years. There is no question that Brassard can move the puck. His efforts on the second powerplay unit have been evident over the last ten games, and help to make it much better than the first unit in regards to maintaining possession in the offensive zone. So what is the hangup?

It is simple. Brassard, like Filatov (but to a much less extent) thrives on a non-physical game. His talent and skill far exceed his need for physicality, and on many teams, he would thrive on a fast paced puck possession game. His size and speed directly design him for puck management, not dump and chase, yet these are not the sole focus of any line on a given night in Columbus.

I have been first to bash Hitchcock this year. I will more than happily admit that. I am impressed with his NHL record, but I do not base every opinion on that. Most of the wins he acquired were long before the NHL was modified, and his mindset is shared by few current NHL coaches, and probably even fewer who are actually successful with that mentality. Unfortunately, I have to put this on him as well. Brassard's talent is obvious on the powerplay, when the door is open for possession. Once he goes back to even strength play, he is forced to go to a style that is both below his talent level, and not something he excels with.

Let me take one final angle with this. Rick Nash. Our team captain, and our best player. He succeeds in the Hitchcock system, but he has quietly modified into his own game a way to provide both. His size allows him to get into the corner and gain possession of the puck, but once completing that, begins to possess the puck until he finds an open lane. It is a quiet way of keeping skill in the game, and it generally provides him success on the scoreboard. Unfortunately, Brassard does not have the size to play that kind of game, and it has absolutely had an effect on his output.

I am confident that Brassard can succeed in this league. I am a big fan of his capabilities, and believe that he needs a longer leash when playing. If Hitch can find a way to allow his young stars to be competitive with the puck rather than forcing the dump and chase, he may find a surprising amount of success in a geyser of talent waiting to spill over on the second line.

Carry the Flag!

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