Hartnett: Rangers Put Their Long-Term Faith In Improving Center Brassard
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‘Rangers Inside And Out’
By Sean Hartnett
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Derick Brassard loves being a New York Ranger – and the organization thinks highly of this gifted center who appears to be on the track toward NHL stardom.
“I really like it here,” Brassard said on break-up day on June 17. “Since I got here, I just really enjoy playing for the Rangers. We have a really special group here, a really good team. I don’t see myself going anywhere.”
Brassard was desperate to remain a Ranger for the long term. The Quebec-born playmaker got his wish granted on Sunday afternoon, as he agreed to terms on a five-year contract worth $25 million. The deal includes a partial no-trade clause.
That kind of commitment speaks volumes about the Rangers’ faith in their flourishing 26-year-old center. Brassard immediately gained new admirers after arriving in New York following a high-profile, six-player 2013 trade deadline swap with the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Garden faithful instantly took notice of Brassard’s spirited efforts and captivating artistry.
Teammates have gone on to describe Brassard as a student of the game who fully commits himself on the ice, is serious about his conditioning and off-ice workouts, and constantly strives for ways to improve his craft.
“He’s a player that plays a hard-nosed game,” Martin St. Louis said in April. “He’s well-appreciated by his teammates. There’s no doubt about that.”
Throughout his first two seasons as a Ranger, Brassard has shown signs of fully blossoming into an elite playmaker. He said he senses that his break-out opportunity is nearing.
“I’m 26 now, I’m five years into the league,” Brassard said. “I think I’ve matured a lot as a player and as a person. Hopefully I can have a really good start next season.”
Brassard finished the 2013-14 regular season with 18 goals and 27 assists for 45 points in 81 games. During his two playoff campaigns as a Ranger, Brassard has shown a knack for big-game heroics.
Alternate captain Marc Staal has described Brassard as a player who “thrives” in elimination game scenarios.
“He’s been the guy who’s stepped up and has played great,” Staal said in May. “I think he’s someone who thrives on that.”
In 35 playoff games with the Blueshirts, Brassard has notched 24 points. The clutch center contributed two game-winning goals during the Rangers’ run to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
KREIDER WOULD FIT NICELY ON BRASSARD’S LEFT WING
A potential second line of Chris Kreider, Brassard and Mats Zuccarello is one that would certainly excite Rangers fans next season.
Brassard and Zuccarello displayed in-sync chemistry once Rangers head coach Vigneault paired them together last season. Former linemate Benoit Pouliot has since signed a five-year deal with the Edmonton Oilers, leaving the left wing of the line vacant.
Vigneault could opt to insert Kreider on Brassard’s left. Both Brassard and Zuccarello possess high levels of natural creativity and outstanding vision. Brassard and Zuccarello have the ability to get the most out of a Kreider’s high-ceiling upside. Kreider finished the 2013-14 regular season with 17 goals and 20 assists for 37 points in 66 regular season games.
A Kreider-Brassard-Zuccarello second line would keep Rick Nash on his more natural left side on a first line of Nash-Derek Stepan-Martin St. Louis. It’s possible that Nash will rekindle game-to-game consistency if he’s kept on the left wing instead of bouncing back and forth between the sides.
JOHN MOORE REMAINS UNSIGNED
Restricted free agent defenseman John Moore has yet to agree terms with the Rangers. The 23-year-old blue-liner is not arbitration eligible.
Excluding Moore and his expected 2014-15 salary of slightly more than $850,000, the Rangers currently have 22 players signed to $67,667,500 million in cap payroll. This leaves $1,332,500 million in remaining cap space to re-sign Moore.
Barring injury, there are few preseason roster battles to be won.
Vigneault tends to carry one extra forward and one spare defenseman during the regular season. Quick-skating winger Jesper Fast is more likely to earn a spot on the fourth line than J.T. Miller. Fast has shown a greater positional sense when compared to Miller. The 21-year-old Miller must shake off his reputation as a defensive zone liability to earn Vigneault’s trust. Miller would benefit from additional seasoning in minor-league Hartford. The same goes for two-way center Oscar Lindberg, while 28-year-old forward Chris Mueller stands a solid chance of making the Rangers’ opening night roster as a scratched, versatile spare forward.
Once Moore is signed, all three defensive pairings will be locked in. It is unlikely that Vigneault will carry two spare defenseman ahead of the Rangers’ Oct. 9 regular season opener in St. Louis. Either Matt Hunwick or Mike Kostka would be sent to the minors.
PROJECTED RANGERS OPENING NIGHT ROSTER:
Spare forward: Mueller
McDonagh (C) – Girardi (A)
Staal (A) – Boyle
J.Moore – Klein
Spare defenseman: Kostka
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey
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