Nik Zherdev. Nikita Filatov. Gilbert Brule. These are just a few of the first round draft picks who were supposed to come to Columbus and turn the team into a competitive force in the Western Conference. Those three, along with many others, failed to match the expectations and succeed with the Blue Jackets. We can now also add Derick Brassard to that list.
Drafted sixth overall in the 2006 draft, Brassard was seen as a guy who could potentially become the team's eventual first-line center. He started off very well, winning all sorts of acclamation and honors while in the AHL. In his first full season with the Blue Jackets he started off very well, producing 25 points in 31 games as a 21 year old. However, things started to go downhill from there.
Derick Brassard stuck up for teammate Fedor Tyutin and fought James Neal, then with the Stars. During the fight, Brassard dislocated his shoulder. He would need surgery and missed the rest of the 2008-2009 season.
Things did not go as smoothly upon Brassard's return. Ken Hitchcock, head coach at the time, limited Brassard's (as well as other young players') icetime and insisted that they focus more on their defensive play. At many times Brassard was relegated to fourth line duty. Brassard would only produce 37 points in the 2009-2010 season. Nikita Filatov was most pronounced in showing his frustration, opting to abandon the Blue Jackets for the KHL because of how he was being handled, but there were grumblings that Brassard was also very unhappy with Hitchcock and wanted him gone.
Brassard got his wish, with Hitchcock being fired in February. Scott Arniel was named the new head coach of the Blue Jackets for the 2010-2011 season, and Brassard got the top-six minutes he craved. He put up a career high 17 goals and 47 points in 74 games. The next season was slightly worse, with 14 goals and 41 points in 74 games, but nonetheless he was showing stretches of great play and development as an offensive center.
Arniel was replaced with Todd Richards for this season, and Brassard's play once again dipped. Brassard was rumored to be on the trading block for years (with the Rangers even speculated as an interested team), so Brassard's inclusion in the Gaborik trade was not even remotely surprising. Larry Brooks spoke to Brassard and Derick confirmed that the weight of expectations was heavy.
“'The organization and team definitely had expectations,' Brassard said. 'I tried to help as much as I could, but we had some tough years and it was really, really hard.'"
This highlights the beauty of his move to the Rangers; there really are no expectations. Brad Richards is the big name center with the huge paycheck. He's the one with the burden to perform at the highest level. Derek Stepan also has been given an increased role and will be relied upon to be one of the top players on the team. For Brassard, he'll get the opportunity he wants without the high expectations. In Columbus, a 45-50 point season fell well below what the team had hoped for. But with this Rangers team that same production is the kind this team was desperate to infuse.
And he is only 25 years old. It's not outside the realm of possibility that he becomes a 60 or 65 point guy. We certainly saw that kind of potential in him in his first game with the team. He produced three points, with a nice backhand goal and two creative, intelligent assists on the powerplay. Of course, it was only one game. And Brassard told Brooks that he knows that it means very little.
“It was great to have a game like that, but I haven’t proven a thing,” Brassard said. “I have to be good every game.”
Brassard will need to be more consistent with the Rangers than he was in Columbus. But the expectations here are different. There is pressure here as well, being New York and a team looking to contend immediately, but it's a different kind of pressure and one that won't eat away at Brassard the way the it did in Columbus. He's not going to be up against the opposition's top line constantly. He's not going to be relied on for heavy offensive output. Brassard can just worry about doing what he can every shift, adding some complementary scoring and some much needed creativity on the powerplay. And unlike in Columbus, that will be good enough.
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