More than a few eyebrows were raised when the Rangers signed Derick Brassard to a five-year, $25 million extension on Jul. 27, 2014. Questions were raised over whether the 27-year-old center was capable of taking the next step in his career by adding consistency to his game.
Brassard has proven his critics wrong all season long. He’s justified every penny of his lucrative extension. Actually, that $5 million annual-average value contract is looking like quite a bargain in the modern NHL.
Rangers general manager Glen Sather knew exactly what he was doing when he locked up Brassard up for the long-term. Brassard’s game has been trending upward since he swapped Columbus for New York on Apr. 3, 2013. In addition to being known as a talented and extremely hard-working player in game situations, the Rangers quickly learned of Brassard’s never-ending devotion toward self-improvement.
Teammates constantly describe Brassard as a “video nerd” and an individual completely obsessed with the game of hockey.
“He loves the game,” linemate Mats Zuccarello told WFAN.com during training camp. “I’ve never been around a guy who loves hockey as much as he does. Every day, he’s looking at everything. He’s always watching YouTube, clips, everything.”
Brassard has recorded a career-high 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists) through 57 games. He’s currently on-pace to finish the season with 18 goals, 49 assists, and 67 points.
In February, Brassard leads all NHL skaters with 12 assists. He has recorded a point in 10 of the past 12 games, collecting 13 points (one goal, 12 assists) over this stretch.
“He’s been really, really good,” Stepan said. “I sound like a broken record, but we need everyone going all the way through the season here. Brass is a huge part of our success.”
In Tuesday’s 1-0 victory over the Calgary Flames, Brassard set up Kevin Hayes‘ game-winning goal.
“Brass had a good forecheck, great stick and made a great pass,” Hayes said. “He basically did everything. I just had to finish it off.”
No longer is Brassard the player who shows flashes of brilliance, then goes through equally cold funks. He’s been a major contributor for the Rangers every night. He’s always getting into smart positions and unleashing clever passes to teammates in high-scoring areas.
Even though Brassard is supremely-skilled, his greatest asset is his determination.
“There’s a reason why he’s been in the NHL for a long time,” Hayes said. “He’s a great player, the kind of player every team wants to have. He’s all-business. He doesn’t mess around. He gets to the rink, focuses on his game and what he needs to do to be successful. It shows every night.”
Brassard has thrived this season in a larger role. His average time on ice has risen from 15:47 per game to 17:46 per game. His points per game has elevated from 0.56 to 0.84.
The playoffs are just around the corner. That has always been the time when Brassard shines the brightest. His playoff points per game of .69 is .10 higher than his career regular season P/GP.
In two playoff campaigns with the Rangers, Brassard has scored 8 goals and collected 16 assists for 24 points in 35 games. He’s notched three career game-winning playoff goals.
Last season, the Rangers reached their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994 – eventually losing to the Los Angeles Kings in five games. Brassard’s big-game contributions certainly helped the Rangers advance to last year’s East Coast-West Coast Stanley Cup Final showdown.
This time around, Brassard is going to play an even more focal role. His wholehearted desire and elevated game could help the Rangers get back to the Stanley Cup Final. The Blueshirts have a very good shot at repeating last season’s success and perhaps could go that one step further by lifting Lord Stanley.