Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Brassard ... looking at the 2006 NHL draft a little differently

By Larry Wigge

Sometimes you might take a look back and shake your head. Sometimes you might wonder aloud why not me.

Derick Brassard said he looks at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft and wonders what went wrong. The 25-year-old center from Hull, Quebec, was right there at the top of the hockey world for at least one day.

The Columbus Blue Jackets drafted him right behind Erik Johnson, Jordan Staal, Jonathan Toews, Nicklas Backstom and Phil Kessel.

Other notables from first round included Kyle Okposo, Jonathan Bernier, Jiri Tlusty, Michael Grabner, Chris Stewart, Simeon Varlamov, Patrik Berglund, Nick Foligno and Claude Giroux.

Claude Giroux drafted 22nd overall by the Philadelphia Flyers. I'm poring studying him carefully. Looking up the statistics.

I'm having breakfast the morning after the 2006 Entry Draft in Vancouver -- and it's clear that my food is getting cold as I continue to look over reports on a lot of the stars of the future whose names were announced in front of the hockey world that weekend.

I get a tap on the shoulder and hear a familiar voice behind me saying; "Didn't you get enough of that the last few days?"

It's Doug MacLean, then the GM of the Blue Jackets.

"I'm looking for the stories behind the stories of the top picks," I responded. "Like the year you traded up to get the first pick in the draft and took Rick Nash, Doug."

"I've got another one for you, Larry," MacLean said. "I'm on the road one night and I get a call from Don Boyd (Columbus' director of amateur scouting). He says. 'Doug, I just saw Derick Brassard and I'm telling you this kid is scary. He can skate. He can pass. Most of all, he's got vision like I haven't seen since Joe Sakic.'

"I'm not saying this kid's the next Joe Sakic. But how's that for a story behind a story, when you consider that Donnie Boyd was the same guy who wouldn't take no for an answer when I told him I didn't think I could trade up to get Rick Nash? Donnie had Brassard rated No. 2 in the draft and we got him with the sixth pick."

His best season thus far has been 2010-11 -- when he had 17 goals and 30 assists for 47 points in 74 games. 

Now, we flash forward to Brassard playing in his fifth season. He's got seven goals and 18 assists in 34 games with Columbus with less than a half hour remaining until the 3 p.m. NHL trade deadline.

Suddenly, the New York Rangers pull off a shocker. They dealt three-time 40-goal scorer Marian Gaborik to Columbus along with AHLers Steven Delisle and Blake Parlett in exchange for center Derick Brassard, right wing Derek Dorsett, defenseman John Moore and a sixth-round draft pick in this year's draft.

Later that night, Brassard contributed one goal and three assists in the Rangers 6-1 triumph over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

What's more the 6-1, 202-pound pivot netted five goals and six assists in the final 13 games of the regular season and has posted two goals and eight assists in nine games in the playoffs -- better than a point per game -- and lead the Rangers in playoff scoring.

He even posted a six-game playoff point streak from, which was the longest by a Ranger in the playoffs since Wayne Gretzky's nine-game point streak in 1997.

"It's been a lot of fun," Brassard said. "I've been in the league for five years and this is the first time in my career that it's happening.

"We have a good team and I like the atmosphere, the leadership that we have. I'm just trying to help out. Right now it's working."

In his early days at Columbus, I would watch Brassard stop in the offensive zone and survey the ice before attempting to make a play, showing me that he hasn't quite caught up with the speed in the NHL just yet. But you can see the instincts, the skills, the speed that made MacLean's scouting staff rave so much about the 20-year-old center from Hull, Quebec.

"Against players his age and at the minor-league level, Derick was dominant," St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. Hitchcock also coached the Blue Jackets. "What really stood out to me in that prospects tournament in Traverse City before the season was how he never slowed down when he was looking to make a play. Everything he did was at top speed."

So the speed, the vision, the passing and shooting are no fluke. Most of all, the intangibles -- the heart, the passion, the will and desire to be an NHLer -- are for real.

But ...

While he dazzled at Drummondville, Derick spoke a halting English. But the kid knew the likelihood of him being chosen by Montreal or another team that had a lot of French-speaking players wasn't likely, so he began to watch ESPN -- SportsCenter to be precise. He watched hockey players handle interviews in English and tried to pick up what he could. By June, he was fluent enough in the language that he could conduct pre-draft interviews with 27 NHL teams in English.

Where Brassard has not failed is in doing the little things so well.

"It's not about the points," Derick said. "I know I'm playing against grown men who have made their living at this level for years. I know I've got to get bigger and stronger, but, for now, I've got to win the small battles. It's all about the little details. Things like winning faceoffs, making sure I'm accountable in the defensive zone ... and not getting scored on too often."

Joe Sakic he's not. He may never be. But with his speed and skill and hands, Brassard is a player whose creativity could someday put him in the skills competition at the All-Star Game the way he can flip the puck upward and dribble it in the air like Alex Ovechkin did in Atlanta.

"You'd be surprised at how many highlight reel goals they put up on YouTube," Brassard laughed. "One day it might be mine."

In his first five seasons at Columbus, he never played in the playoffs. Now, in New York, he's won his first series at Washington in a winner-take-all Game 7.

"Game 7s are unique," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "I always talk about experience vs. non-experience ... You look at Brass -- he doesn't give a crap what's going on on the ice. He's just playing."

Doesn't give a crap? That's not what Derick Brassard's thinking.

"They're showing a lot of confidence in me," he says. "I just started out with the team. I know I can bring some offense. We have a lot of talent in this team and that's why I'm really excited -- we can do a lot of damage ... and I want to be part of it."

His teammates are amazed at his patience.

"He's a really good passer," Carl Hagelin said. "He's got great hockey sense and great skill. He made one hell of a play to me there ... I think he had some sauce on it, too. He knows how to make plays. That's the reason he's in the NHL."

"It's incredible. His playmaking ability is so crucial," defenseman Ryan McDonagh said of Brassard's ability to suddenly spark an offense that was dormant for much of the season.

"He finds space for himself, which helps other guys get open ice, and he's doing well defensively. He's doing it all right now."

Derick Brassard is doing it all right now -- in the playoffs.

Sometimes you might take a look back and shake your head. Sometimes you might wonder aloud why not me. Brassard's done all that. And now with the New York Rangers he's getting a chance to show his talents.

Now, you can look at the 2006 NHL Draft ... a little differently.

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