When Todd Richards took over as the Blue Jackets interim head coach one year ago today, one of the first things he did was give Derick Brassard a larger role.
During the early part of the 2011-12 season, the now 25-year-old center struggled to find his way into the lineup on a consistent basis and often found himself on the club's fourth line. The team had trouble scoring goals and winning games in what concluded as a trying season on multiple fronts, but among the highlights down the stretch was Brassard's emergence as the potential top-six center they think he can be.
In the 41 games played under Richards last season, Brassard put up nine goals and 20 assists -- a healthy portion of his 41-point total in 74 games. Playing most of his minutes on the Blue Jackets' No. 1 line, he showed flashes of the playmaking and goal-scoring ability that made him a high first-round pick in 2006.
Fast forward seven years later, and Brassard knows the upcoming 2013 season is his most important one to date. With Richards retained as the full-time coach in May, Brassard figures to carry a similar role this year on a team with several talented young players.
“It’s really exciting for me," Brassard told BlueJackets.com today. "I like the way I finished the season last year, and that’s the level I want to be at. I know I can be a big part of this team, making plays and putting up some points for the boys and helping the team win.
"I trained hard this summer, and it was disappointing to not be playing right away, but I’m going to be ready to go. My confidence is high right now.”
Brassard was one of the first arrivals into Columbus once the NHL and NHLPA reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) over the weekend. He said he couldn't wait to get back on the ice with the group of players in town, and is anxiously awaiting the rest of the team to filter in over the next few days.
And once the full group gets settled in, Brassard said, it's time to get down to business right away with the regular season beginning in less than two weeks.
“The guys were pretty excited about the start, and now, we have a week and a half to get ready for the season," Brassard said. "That’s a little bit different than usual, but I know we’ll be ready, and we’re all really anxious to get going. We have a week of practice to make sure we’re ready.
"Everyone in the league is going to be excited to play. The games are going to be played at a real high pace and high tempo, kind of like playoff games every night.”
Where will Brassard fit in with the current group? Richards and the staff are likely to make those decisions once training camp begins (over the weekend or early next week), but Brassard anchored a productive line last year with R.J. Umberger and Cam Atkinson.
If that happens to be the alignment when things get under way, Brassard is more than happy to reunite with his old line mates.
“I don’t know what the plan is, but me, Umby and Cam had some good games together (last season)," Brassard said. "If I play with those two guys, we’ll figure it out really quickly and it’ll be great.”