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Derick Brassard Is Finally Living Up To Expectations

Drafted sixth overall in 2006, Derick Brassard looked like yet another poor selection by the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, Brassard has significantly improved his play since and is starting to validate the hype.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Drafting was the number one reason for the Columbus Blue Jackets being a terrible hockey team for most of the 15 years that it has been in existence. A number of high picks were used on players who, for whatever reason, did not live up to expectations in the slightest. Alexandre Picard, Gilbert Brule, and Nikita Filatov failed to make a tangible impact at the NHL level, while Nik Zherdev had a bit more success but ultimately failed to live up to expectations. Jakub Voracek was traded too soon to have a meaningful impact on the Blue Jackets.

For a long time, Derick Brassard, drafted sixth overall in the 2006 draft, was in that same class. The Blue Jackets had tremendously high expectations for the Quebec forward who amassed an astonishing 44 goals and 116 points in just 55 games with the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the QMJHL going into his draft year. For some time, though, it was all downhill from there. Injuries dramatically shortened his next QMJHL season, and that would foreshadow much of his early NHL career.

Brassard actually had a good start with the Blue Jackets. In his first season as a regular in the lineup, he produced 25 points in the first 31 games at just 20 years old during the 2008-2009 season. However, a fight with James Neal shelved him for the rest of the year with a shoulder injury.

Brassard would return to the Blue Jackets healthy next season, but the production remained missing. An underwhelming nine goals and 36 total points in 79 games.. During the entirety of the season, Ken Hitchcock, fired late in the season, kept Brassard's minutes limited and was often critical of his decision making.

And that's kind of how things went for Brassard in Columbus despite a number of coaches, systems, and deployments. Through the 2011-2012 season, Brassard's best season statistically would be 17 goals and 47 total points in 2010-2011. Not awful numbers if it's coming from a two-way, depth center. But Brassard was not a two-way center, and he was certainly not drafted to become a depth player. Things hit rock bottom for Brassard when his agent, Allan Walsh, resorted to sending a passive-aggressive letter to the Columbus Dispatch blaming then-Head Coach Scott Arniel, who was constantly scratching Brassard, for his struggles.

Arniel would be fired, and Brassard still didn't noticeably improve under new Head Coach Todd Richards. Columbus had decided that, now 25 years old, Brassard just was not going to develop into the player they hoped he would be. He was traded to the New York Rangers in a package for Marian Gaborik at the 2013 trading deadline.

Brassard quickly made an impact for the Rangers, producing 11 points in 13 games as well as 12 points in 12 playoff games. During his first full season with the Rangers, last season, Brassard struggled early, producing only 12 points in the first 27 games. It appeared to be more of the same from a chronic underachiever. Then, he was put on a line with Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello, and instant chemistry was discovered. Brassard contributed 33 points over the final 54 games and was a quality possession player. It appeared that his game had reached a new level.

Still, Glen Sather made a very bold call that this past offseason; a decision that was really put on the back burner as everyone instead discussed the departures of other players in what was a busy offseason. Derick Brassard was given a five-year, $25 million contract extension; a lofty price for a player who had been as inconsistent as he was most of his career. With the Rangers having salary cap issues as is, committing that kind of money long-term to an underperforming player would be a massive obstacle to building a winning team. Furthermore, there was significant skepticism that Brassard, with Brad Richards gone, could step up in a new role and be a legitimate second-line center.

The early results appear to justify the contract, though. Through 35 games, Brassard's possession numbers are perfectly acceptable. A 50.7 Corsi Percentage and a positive Relative Corsi. Those are solid numbers for a player going up against heavy competition, and particularly considering how injured and dysfunctional the Rangers were for much of the season; he's a 53.1% Corsi and a +2.4% Corsi Rel over the last 12 games.

The point totals are what really jump out, though. After consistently being a 40-45 point producer most of his career, Brassard has amounted 31 points through those 35 games, including 11 goals. That's a pace for 25.8 goals and 72.6 points over a full 82-game season. Currently, Brassard sits tied for 38th overall in the NHL in points. That despite the Rangers playing fewer games than most teams. In fact, Brassard is 29th overall in the entire NHL in points-per-game (mininum 15 games) and is ahead of the likes of Corey Perry, Henrik Sedin, Jamie Benn, and Jonathan Toews in that regard. Furthermore, Brassard is 21st overall among forwards (minimum 300 minutes) in points-per-60 minutes. Among centers, he's ninth overall. Brassard has not only lived up to the standard of an acceptable second-line center, but has produced like a typical first-line center.

And the irony of this all is that he's finally discovering himself with that same Scott Arniel running the offense for the Rangers. As bad as things were for both Brassard and Arniel in Columbus, mutually and exclusively, it's all clicking in a different setting. The Rangers are third overall in the NHL in scoring right now and have the 11th-ranked power play. Brassard is obviously a big part of that, with his 31 points in total and his 12 power play points leading the team. Brassard has been good since coming to the Rangers, but this year particularly feels different, just as the production indicates. He's really come into his own and makes plays on a nightly basis. There's no longer a sense of hesitance or insecurity in his play.

The move from Columbus to New York has, unconventionally, taken a lot of pressure off of Brassard, I think. In Columbus he was faced with the weight of expectations. He was drafted highly, and the team badly needed him to become a high-end center and face of the franchise. In New York? There's so much focus on other players - Lundqvist, Nash, Stepan, St. Louis, McDonagh, Girardi - that Brassard has been able to find his role on the team and let the production just happen. Stepan takes on the burden of playing the opposition's top line, while Dominic Moore takes the brunt of the defensive work. That makes the task for Brassard a lot less daunting; be a creative offensive force. He's making it happen.

And the best part for the Rangers is that Brassard is theoretically only just entering his prime; He turned 27 last September. Will Brassard continue to be a 70-point player in the long-run? It's possible, but not likely. Nonetheless, the reality of the modern NHL is that 20-23 goals and 50-55 points is what constitutes a good second-line center. His production the last couple of seasons as well as his underlying possession statistics makes him a safe bet to repeatedly hit those numbers the next five years at a minimum, and I don't think 60-65 points consistently is out of the question either. That will quite easily make Brassard worth the extension Sather signed him to last summer.

It required an injury-filled, burdensome nine years with six different NHL coaches and a trade mixed in. But Derick Brassard, at 27 years old, is finally living up to expectations.