Ex-Penguins forward Derick Brassard is producing with Islanders
NEW YORK — Derick Brassard’s time with the Pittsburgh Penguins was a massive disappointment.
Few would dispute that.
Brassard sure didn’t offer a counterargument when he visited PPG Paints Arena on Tuesday as a member of the New York Islanders.
He didn’t agree with it, either.
In fact, he had little to say on the subject.
When asked to speak about his brief tenure as a member of the Penguins, Brassard declined to comment.
His most vivid statement Tuesday came in the form of two assists he recorded, including the primary helper on the tying goal that led to his team’s 5-4 overtime victory.
He reiterrated that sentiment in Thursday’s 4-3 overtime win at the Barclays Center by netting the primary assist on another game-tying goal.
His performances in those two games were far more productive than most of his outings as a member of the Penguins.
Acquired from the Ottawa Senators before the 2018 trade deadline, Brassard was added in hopes of restoring depth at center, a strategy that helped claim Stanley Cup titles in 2009, ’16 and ’17.
Any hopes of Brassard becoming the next Jordan Staal or Nick Bonino never materialized.
He wasn’t even the next Brandon Sutter.
He was basically another Greg McKegg.
Injuries largely derailed his time with the Penguins. When he was healthy, he was ineffective. Failing to fully adapt to his role as a third-line center (or accept it, in the opinion of some members of the front office), Brassard fell well short of the lofty expectations foisted upon him.
A mere 50 weeks after the Penguins moved heaven and the earth to acquire him, they jettisoned him to Florida. After less than three weeks in South Florida, he was shipped to Colorado, where he produced four goals in 20 regular-season games. He limped into unrestricted free agency with little momentum towards a lucrative contract.
Coming off a five-year deal with a an ample salary-cap hit of $5 million, Brassard had to settle for a one-year deal worth $1.2 million with the Islanders that he didn’t sign until Aug. 21, a very late date.
So far, the Islanders have gotten far more value out of Brassard than the Penguins — or the Panthers or Avalanche, for that matter — ever realized.
Through Thursday, Brassard is third on the Islanders with 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 20 games. In contrast, Brassard mustered only 23 points (12 goals, 11 assists) in 54 contests with the Penguins.
Much of his success this season has come on the team’s second line as a right winger with Brock Nelson at center and Anthony Beauvillier on the left wing.
“We moved him to the wing, and it’s been a good mix so far,” Nelson said. “He’s been a big part of our offense the last month or so. Him and (Beauvillier) have good speed, get to the puck, smart. Derick’s been around a long time so he knows what it takes. Knows how to play, he’s produced year in and year out before. Just having a permanent home will help him and his game. It’s tough when you get traded, but now he’s here helping us and being a big part of the team. He’s made the most of it.”
Said Islanders coach Barry Trotz: “When he goes to the wing, it frees up his mind to play just freer. When we had him at center, he concentrated so much on one area of his game … that some of the other areas fall off. He’s got good hockey IQ. He can move pucks. You’ve got a guy like Brock who can make plays and also shoots the puck pretty well. And Anthony, he’s got some real good quickness and can get to space.”
The Penguins briefly tried to use Brassard on the right wing with forward Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, but that experiment failed to bear consistent results.
Whatever failures Brassard had with buying in to the Penguins’ approach, he appears to have fully accepted the Islanders’ demanding systematic modus operandi.
“He’s playing unbelievable, and he’s been a workhorse ever since he got here and it’s starting to show,” said Islanders forward Casey Cizikas, one of the team’s more tenured players. “Whenever you come to a new team, it’s going to take a little time to get used to what we do here and how we play the game. Everything with our team, it’s so detailed. Everybody has to know what to do in everybody’s else’s position because of how we rotate and move in our own end out there on the ice.
“Once he caught grasp of that, he took off and started playing extremely well. He’s been a leader for us so far this year.”
One of the more pensive players in the NHL, Brassard’s intelligence has stood out to with his current teammates.
“He’s pretty cerebral,” Nelson said. “He knows what’s going on. He’s in good spots all the time. He’s played several years in the league. He’s played center. He plays the game at a high level, which helps. It’s easy for me to read off that, knowing he’s going to be in good spots and kind tell you the different things that he sees. It’s worked for our line.”
Before Thursday, the Islanders had earned points in 15 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in franchise history, and had 31 points, the second-best total in the NHL.
Brassard’s production with Nelson and Beauvillier is a major component of that prolonged success.
“Once he figured it out and got comfortable in what we were doing, his game took off, and you can see it,” Cizikas said. “Every single night, he’s involved in the play, he’s getting back hard, he’s making plays. He’s doing things out there that I remember playing against him (earlier in his career) that he was doing. That’s just kind of the player that he is. He’s smart, he’s skilled and he’s got deceptive speed.”
Seth Rorabaugh is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Seth by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .