For all the early season speculation surrounding Derick Brassard, it is amazing how little press the 24 year old center has received over the last week or so. Certainly stemming from his lower status compared to potential trade bait Rick Nash or Jeff Carter, Brassard has managed to fly under the radar for the most part since Todd Richards took over the head coaching position. This should come as a bit of a surprise considering his recent contributions.
This piece may not reflect his current trade status as much as I have presented above, but instead, will review the changes made in his game, and consider his overall value to the organization after his rise in scoring and current role on the team. To do that, I think a comparison between his early season numbers under Arniel, and his current numbers under Richards is a great way to start.
As you can see, the numbers with Richards behind the bench are substantially better. This could be caused by the clear issues between him and Arniel, his playing time and playing partners, or simply because he embraced his role and found his game part way through the season. It could also be caused by Brassard doing something like not coming into camp in the right condition and battling for the first couple months of the season to get into the appropriate playing shape. In any case, at a current 50 point production with Richards, I find him to be entirely relevant to this hockey club, most notably because at that pace, had it begun from the beginning of the season, he would be currently tied for second place with Vinny Prospal (the math: 10pts in 16 games = 0.625 points per game x 57 games in current season = 35.625pts) in terms of team scoring. He would also arguably have 14 goals, which would be again second to only Nash.
There are a number of pieces to the Brassard puzzle in my mind, and I want to share a few in order to bolster my opinion on his potential tenure with the team before I state my final case. These 'pieces' are not necessarily negative or positive, simply a number of the points made about him:
Brassard's confidence is defined as questionable. He seems to be a somewhat quiet, goofy interview, which only fuels my opinion that he's not really designed to ooze confidence in his play. I have seen this style of player embraced by rosters throughout the league, and enjoyed a discussion from Red Wings players regarding their own Valtteri Filppula. They made a note of saying (or at least suggesting) that the team has become a constant cheerleader for Filppula and are consistently convincing him he is a top line player. Not unlike that scenario, I think this strategy could work wonders for Brassard. Where some players would believe the hype and get complacent (see: Grant Clitsome), I believe Brassard would embrace the challenge and exceed expectations.
Brassard's past seasons have been full of bursts of quality play, followed by the lowest of lows. I get this argument, and statistics will probably support it, but I also believe that the rise and fall of the team, along with the extremely questionable locker room atmosphere should play a major part in defining his issues. For a player who seems to be shaken by adversity, it would come as no surprise to me that Brassard would be one of the players most affected by a change in the teams ability to win or at least compete in games. With that said, he has played relatively consistent since the Arniel firing, and appears to be reasonably unshakeable in games when he makes a mistake or two. Often times, he has rebounded with a number of strong plays.
Brassard's size has been questioned. From all I have seen this year, he added a completely different dimension to his game this year, focusing on physicality and puck possession. I think he's worlds different than the one dimensional playmaker we have seen in the past, and his ability to play all roles (within reason, he's not going to fight every game) has been a real breath of fresh air. I thought this was extremely visible at the beginning of the year when he was demoted to the fourth line, in a game that saw him finish a check on Shea Weber. A double take and a laugh were all I could muster at the time, but I believe his game has consistently had somewhat of an edge to it.
Brassard's vision on the ice is nothing short of tremendous. He has provided his linemates with passes that lead to extremely easy goals, and has been a major part of generating offense due to his ability to find a secondary player through traffic in the offensive zone. I will share a video of exactly what I am referring to:
In this case, Nash receives the puck at the point from Tyutin, and sends it across the ice to Brassard. From there, Brassard finds an open lane to the net, and fakes a slap shot. In the same motion, while looking towards the net, he feeds the puck across the slot to Nash who followed the play from the point. Boom, boom, easy goal. When you consider the concerns surrounding Nash not having a capable center to 'dish him the puck,' I have to wonder how far off this type of play is from accomplishing that role. With this visible example, and countless praises of Brassard's vision on the ice, I can't help but think that his full potentially is only really starting to show.
His early season struggles were visible, most definitely. I think he took to heart the issues and demotions that Arniel placed on him, and I can certainly respect those who cite long stretches of this year as times where he appears to be playing at a very low level of quality. with that said, and as the numbers above have clearly represented, he excels the better his linemates are. His successes are a compliment to his team game, and I believe Columbus needs more players like Brassard, who have an affinity for passing first and finding players through traffic.
It is time for this team to move forward after a truly terrible season, and I think Derick Brassard is a player they can build around. He is a pure playmaker with great vision, and an added element of physicality that no one would really expect of him. While his confidence needs boosting, I believe players like Prospal and Umberger can help him along appropriately during the stretches where things may not be going his way, and I think with all teams it is important to have players who need pushing, just as much as it is important to have players who will provide the push. Once he can refine his faceoff woes, I really think he can become a pivotal piece of the this for the next few years.
Carry the Flag!