CRANBERRY TOWNSHIP, Pa. — The Pittsburgh Penguins acquired Derick Brassard in the days leading up to the NHL trade deadline, Feb. 26.
The second-line center for the struggling Ottawa Senators, Brassard was one of the two big gets at the deadline, along with Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who landed in Tampa Bay.
Brassard’s skill set and playoff history made him an attractive acquisition for many teams, but especially the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 78 playoff games over the past five seasons, four with the New York Rangers and one season with the Senators, Brassard posted 22 goals and 33 assists. Ottawa’s system stifled his speed and playmaking ability but the Penguins system offered the opportunity to unleash his potential.
But, the transition was tough. Brassard had only two points (1g, 1a) in his first seven Penguins games. Brassard was retreating instead of attacking. He was looking to play defense instead of offense. In short, he was playing Guy Boucher‘s brand of hockey but in a black and gold sweater.
Then, he suffered a groin injury two weeks ago and missed the final five games of the regular season.
“I was pretty upset with missing those last couple games,” he said after a full practice Monday at Lemieux Sports Complex. “I felt like I was turning a corner with this team here. It is what it is. Injuries are always part of the game.”
In his last seven games, however, Brassard began to click. He and Conor Sheary found chemistry and Brassard chipped in six points (2g, 4a), including a six-game scoring streak.
“It is what it is,” said Brassard. “I’ve been working pretty hard, trust me. We’ll see what’s gonna happen.”
Not every player excels in the playoffs. It’s an entirely different atmosphere and game speed but Brassard relishes the big stage.
“It’s the emotion. The atmosphere in the buildings. That’s what you’re playing for, right? You’re playing to win the championship,” Brassard told reporters. “The atmosphere is just great around the league. I just try to put some emotion in my game and the past couple years it’s gone really well.”
Fans concerned about Brassard’s postseason performance can take solace.
As a member of the Senators, Brassard was a leader of the crew which pushed the Penguins to double overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. A knuckling shot by Chris Kunitz fooled Senators goalie Craig Anderson, or it very well could have been Brassard in the Stanley Cup Final for a second time. (He also made it in 2014 with the Rangers, who lost to the Kings in five games.)
Brassard fully understands his opportunity this season is a little different than skating with the underdog Senators. Now his task is to help a team chisel its name beside the greatest teams of all-time.
The great 1980s Edmonton Oilers didn’t win three in a row. Nor did one of the greatest teams ever assembled, the 1992-93 Pittsburgh Penguins. This Penguins team has that chance.
“We’re lucky enough to be part of a really good team and win something special,” Brassard concluded.
PHN’s Matt Gajtka and Shelly Anderson contributed to this report.