Seven months ago the Ottawa Senators traded Mika Zibanejad to the New York Rangers, in return they received Derick Brassard. The then 28-year-old was pitched as the left-shot centre that Bobby Ryan needed. For many he was simply an older, more expensive Zibanejad, and yet another example of Ottawa’s inability to make structured, thought-out decisions. And he was, until all of the sudden he wasn’t.
Derick Brassard: the Centre the Ottawa Senators Have Been Looking For
The beginning of the Brassard era in Ottawa was a far cry from what fans, and likely the player hoped for. After two points in his debut, Brassard notched just six points in the next 18; two of which were secondary assists. He cycled through line mates, spending time with Bobby Ryan, Zack Smith, and Mike Hoffman among others. His possession numbers were average at best, and his goals-for percentage was an eye-sore. None of this was made better by the fact Zibanejad was dominating in New York.
By game 15 Guy Boucher had had enough, and decided to make a change. Ryan was out, in his place: Mark Stone. It took a few games to adjust but the difference has been light and day. Brassard’s possession numbers sky-rocketed, his team was scoring more goals with him on the ice than they were giving up, and he notched 25 points over the proceeding 39 games. That’s including a goal-scoring drought where he was praised by Boucher despite his misfortune when it came to putting the puck in the back of the net.
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) February 19, 2017
Brassard Back to His Old Self
Despite the slow start, Brassard’s season to date has been more of what we’ve come to expect from the former Ranger. He’s fifth in team scoring with 33 points in 59 games, a rate slightly below his average over the past three seasons. Brought in to be the playmaker Bobby Ryan needs, Brassard has instead found himself centring the duo of Mark Stone and Mike Hoffman, and the trio have been phenomenal together. Among line combo’s with at least 200 minutes together only the combo of Filip Forsberg–Viktor Arvidsson–Ryan Johansen can boast a higher Rel.CF% (11.28). When 61-19-68 take the ice, the Senators take 10.39 per cent more shot-attempts than without them. They also see an 11.78 jump in Rel.GF%.
Individually Brassard has been a defensive revelation. His 2.7 expected plus-minus (XPM) defensive impact is not only leading the team, but among the upper echelons for the league. For a team that prides itself on its defense-first approach, Brassard has been a model player.
Add to that the fact that his linemates are two of the next three best forwards on the team, and you’ve got a player who is contributing at both ends of the ice. More importantly you’ve got a line that offers defensive stability, and offensive options; something the Senators have been without for some time.
Brassard also ticks the other standard individual boxes. Among forwards he holds the league-leading Rel.CF%, 12th highest Rel.XGF%, a team-leading XGF%, and is one of just four Senators managing to maintain positive shot-attempt numbers.
In short Derick Brassard has been one of the best forwards this team has, and with Mike Hoffman currently injured, he and Mark Stone have their work cut out for them. Pierre Dorion also deserves credit for taking a calculated gamble in his first year as general manager. Although not every move he makes will turn out, this has proven to be the definition of a hockey trade. Both teams have benefitted, and though Zibanejad is sure to be missed in Ottawa, Brassard has seamlessly filled the hole created by his absence.
Find a winger for Jason Spezza. Find a centre for Bobby Ryan. It seems the Senators are perpetually looking for a forward to complement their elite talent. In Brassard they’ve found an elite talent to complements their forwards.
Stats from Corsica.Hockey