Pittsburgh — Derick Brassard is one of the more accomplished centers in the NHL. He anchored New York Rangers teams which went to the Stanley Cup Final and Eastern Conference Final, and an Ottawa team which took the Pittsburgh Penguins to double overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final in 2017. Yet on the Penguins, he is unquestionably the third best center and only a secondary player. Or, was.
Many players would react negatively to a position shift. Not Brassard. Saturday, the Penguins coaches made the big move to put Brassard on left wing beside Sidney Crosby. He sounded excited and eager to continue the positional experiment.
“It was a lot of fun. I feel like we had some good looks. We had the puck a lot,” said Brassard, who was just getting warmed up. “I just need more reps. More looks and everything. I loved it.”
Athletes say a lot of things. They say the right things and carry the company line. They say what they’re supposed to say. But this wasn’t the case with Brassard. His eyes light up when he admitted how much fun he had playing left wing (Watch his facial reaction at about :44 in the video below).
Brassard can be intense but Monday after practice, his answers and reporters prodding for analysis brought a smile.
“You have to skate a little less than before,” he laughed. “I loved it and can’t wait to try it again tomorrow. If you’re keeping score, that was one “it was fun” and two “I loved it” quotes within the first two questions reporters posed to Brassard.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now asked Brassard about playing with Crosby and specifically how Crosby thinks the game. Brassard didn’t blink.
“I wanted to prove myself and be there for those two guys (Crosby and Jake Guentzel). I know they’re good players, but I think can make plays with those two guys and I’m really confident in my ability to see the ice and make sure I can give that puck to (Crosby) when he has the open spot. And the same thing for Jake.”
There is suddenly a lot of skill on the Penguins top line, and Brassard brings a solid two-way game, too. When Patric Hornqvist is on Crosby’s right, there are no surprises, no frills. Everyone in the building knows where to find Hornqvist; at the front of the net. Brassard is a different matter entirely.
Brassard is renowned for his playmaking ability, and his skating ability is on par with the best Penguins forwards. The Penguins coaches slid left wing sniper Jake Guentzel over to right wing to accommodate Brassard, which balanced the line with a trio of players with big-time potential.
Brassard also didn’t mind the extra minutes and the additional opportunity to contribute. Brassard averaged no less than 17:23 of ice time since 2014, but with the Penguins last season, Brassard played only 15:12. His offensive production was proportionally higher than his time in Ottawa, but he scored just eight points in 14 games while dealing with an injury.
Playing on the Penguins vaunted top line will present a few challenges but significant opportunities, and ice time.
“Yeah. Just having offensive zone faceoffs,” Brassard allowed. Third line centers often get buried in their own zone. “I just loved the experience, and it brings the best out of me. I can’t wait for tomorrow and try it again, over and over.”
If you’re keeping score, that’s three “loves” from Brassard.
Brassard did notice Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux made a similar move last season and had a career year.
“I know I can make those plays and I know I can be a good player for that line. We just need more games and eventually, we’re going to have a breakout game.”
After four games in which the Penguins have not played with the puck nearly enough, that breakout game can’t come soon enough.