Of all the players who could have scored a hat trick for the New York Rangers in Game 6, few would have thought it would be Derick Brassard. After all, in the regular season Brassard found the back of the net 19 times in 80 games. But Wednesday, if you had to take a quick poll, you’d be hard done by to find those who wouldn’t put Brassard alongside Henrik Lundqvist as the Rangers’ playoff MVPs. This post-season, Brassard has been on fire.
“It was just like one of those nights,” Brassard said. “I was in the right place at the right time. My teammates gave me some really good plays.”
One of those nights or not, maybe his three-goal outburst should have been expected because Brassard has continuously gotten better in the Big Apple. From the moment he set foot in Madison Square Garden as a Ranger, after being one of three players acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Marian Gaborik, Brassard has found a new life to his game, one that at times was missing while he was a Blue Jacket.
In that first game in New York, Brassard lit the lamp once and registered four points before the night was through, all the while skating less than 13 minutes. When it comes to immediate impact, it doesn’t get much better than that. Brassard was named the game’s second star, and from that moment on, Rangers fans have watched the key piece of the Gaborik deal grow into a top-six center who is contributing when the Blueshirts need it most.
His first full campaign with the Rangers was a good one – 18 goals and 45 points for the second-highest point total of his career to that point – but he blew his previous career high out of the water this season. In 80 games, Brassard notched 19 goals, a career-best, and 60 points, far and away the highest total of his career. He also averaged 17:23 per game, the most of his young career. And with four years left on his deal at an average cap hit of $5 million, Brassard is looking like a steal down the middle in a league where skilled centers always come at a premium.
In the post-season, Brassard has been a consistent threat -- not just this season, either. After averaging 0.56 points per game in 2013-14, he scored six goals and 12 points in 23 post-season games as the Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup final last season. This year, he’s scored nine times and has 16 points in five fewer games while getting almost two more minutes of ice time per night.
“I played four years in the league before I got my first taste of the playoffs, and I think I really enjoy playing at this time,” Brassard told media following Game 6. “There is nothing better than playing in New York in front of those fans and playing on a good team.”
While the raw statistics are great – and that he’s trending upwards entering his prime bodes well for Brassard’s 2015-16 campaign – there’s more to the growth of Brassard. In just one season, he has gained the trust of coach Alain Vigneault when it comes to his defensive play and has shown he’s even a skilled pivot when it comes to the new-fangled possession metrics that have become ever-popular in recent years.
This past season, only six Rangers played at least 1,000 minutes of 5-on-5 hockey. Of those, only one, Martin St-Louis, started a higher percentage of his shifts in the defensive zone. Yet, of those six forwards, a group that includes St-Louis, Rick Nash and Chris Kreider, Brassard and Mats Zuccarello tied for the best possession statistics, registering 52.4 percent of the shot attempts for while they were on the ice.
What it is about Brassard is that he possesses all the skills necessary to become a star. He skates well and has a good size frame. He’s a power play specialist that can find passing lanes. And if you set him up, he can absolutely wire a puck.
Though he hasn’t yet produced quite to the level of others in his draft class – he was selected sixth overall in 2006, the same year as players like Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstrom, Phil Kessel and Claude Giroux – it looks like Brassard is destined to keep upping his production year after year. If you’re a Rangers fan, there’s good reason to be excited, because this might be the start of a special few years for what could be Broadway's newest star.