By Sean Hartnett
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If there’s one thing about Rangers center Derick Brassard, he’s always searching for an edge and constantly strives to improve.
The 28-year-old center has enhanced his game with each passing season since arriving from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2013 trade deadline.
Brassard has steadily evolved into a very good two-way player. His superb instincts allow him to make alert plays on both ends of the ice. The Hull, Quebec native is renowned for his craftiness in the offensive zone, but his reliable defensive play shouldn’t be overlooked.
“Bottom line is I try to make scoring chances and try to eliminate the scoring chances against whenever I’m on the ice,” Brassard told WFAN.com. “I try to be good on special teams, on the power play. That’s something I take pride in. That’s my game — making plays.”
The five-year, $25 million extension he agreed to in the summer of 2014 is looking like a bargain investment by the Blueshirts. Still, there was one weakness that stuck out. Brassard was mediocre at taking draws last season, winning only 48.8 percent of the time. He was an even 48 percent during the 2013-14 regular season.
This season, Brassard has added a new weapon to his arsenal, improving to 56.6 percent on faceoffs.
“That’s something I take pride in. I think it comes with experience,” Brassard said. “Knowing the other centers, watching some of the top guys taking draws. I don’t think it has anything to do with strength. You just be smarter where you position your stick depending on who you’re facing. It’s going well so far. It’s a long season. I’m just trying to keep it going.”
Head coach Alain Vigneault recognizes the work put in by Brassard to gain an edge. He has worked closely with veteran centers Dominic Moore and Jarret Stoll to transform into a maven at the faceoff circle.
“I’m sure he knew that was an area he needed to improve,” Vigneault said recently. “I see him putting in a lot of time in practice-wise. Right now, he’s working a lot with Dom and Jarret on those aspects. He’s been very good in that area. That’s the competitiveness. You’ve got to be feisty and ready. I think it’s another area, a skill you that you can learn and improve. That’s what he’s doing.”
Think back to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. A young Luke Skywalker was inexperienced in the ways of “The Force.” He was unsteady with a lightsaber in his hand. Luke needed Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi to be his guide. That’s kind of like the relationship between the apprentice Brassard, who is developing his faceoff expertise with 35-year-old Moore as his instructor.
Before every game, Moore will review footage of opposing centers to search for tendencies. Then class is in session. Moore is the teacher, Brassard the pupil.
“Dom is the guy that looks at videos of the opposing centers before every game,” Brassard said. “I always ask him what he saw. We always talk before the game about the other centers.”
Moore detailed the keys to finding consistency at the faceoff circle.
“Faceoffs are all about making good adjustments,” Moore told WFAN.com. “It’s knowing tendencies of other players and things that are working and not working. You have to put the work in to get better at faceoffs. There’s a ton of things that go into it — knowing your strengths and weaknesses, knowing your opponents, timing, all those things make a difference. It’s helpful to talk about it and have a little feedback.”
Brassard is white-hot at the moment. He has collected five points (two goals, three assists) in the past three games. In Friday’s 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, he recorded the primary assist on each of the goals that sealed linemate Mats Zuccarello’s first career hat trick.
The reunited line of Rick Nash, Brassard and Zuccarello demonstrated the kind of tic-tac-toe chemistry on Friday that made the trio a possession-strong line for the Rangers last season.
“You want to start with the puck,” Brassard said. “You want to be attacking. You don’t want to be defending. There’s so many different factors in faceoffs — there’s knowing the refs, having a good relationship with them, knowing their tendencies. When I watch games, I always pay attention to those things.”
Look for the trio to stay intact and to continue driving the Rangers.
Follow Sean on Twitter at @HartnettHockey