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Opening Eyes

by David DiCenzo / Columbus Blue Jackets

It's been nice for Derick Brassard to get some recognition for his game. With a blazing start to the season, Brassard's play recently earned him the NHL's Rookie of the Month award for October. Last year, the Jackets' center was given the AHL equivalent, twice, taking home rookie honors in both October and April.

It's good that he's been noticed but Brassard's aspirations go far beyond individual accomplishments. The Hull, Quebec native was raised on the Montreal Canadiens, winners of 23 Stanley Cups. He's aiming for more.

"I've never won anything in the past," says Brassard, drafted sixth overall by Columbus in 2006. "I want to make the playoffs this year and go from there."

Brassard was really only around for one of those Cups that the Habs hoisted, which came back in 1993. He was about six at the time with one year of hockey under his belt.

"I started with two blades on each skate," Brassard recalls. "After dinner, I would always go outside and play for hours. Every neighborhood had big games.

"Sixteen-on-sixteen."

It was on those rinks in Quebec that Brassard began to develop a game that is now making news throughout Columbus and the rest of the NHL. Entering this season with a new-found confidence – and about 10 extra pounds to do battle with – the 21-year-old says his only goal was to try and play well every time out.

That's exactly what's happened. His 15 points (7-8-15) and plus-five rating in his first 15 games are both tops on Columbus. And Brassard's 54.4 per cent success rate in the faceoff circle ranks him 21st in the entire NHL(as of Nov. 13).

His points haven't just come in bunches either. Brassard has found the score sheet in 12 of those 15 games, proving that he was serious when he said he wanted to be consistent every time he suited up. The only thing that really stopped him was a flu bug that forced him to miss a game.

"He's a completely different player," says captain Rick Nash, adding that Brassard's upbeat attitude has also made a difference within the dressing room. "One of the big things is that he's playing with confidence this year. Last year, the first couple of games, he didn't know what to expect.

"We need him. We need all the offense and solid play we can get."

Brassard has found success centering fellow rookie Jake Voracek, with Jason Chimera having joined the two young forwards for much of the season. In terms of responsibilities, Brassard knows what's expected of him, which at the center position means helping his defense, skating more and winning individual battles.

Wednesday's game against Phoenix showed his willingness to do the latter. In the first period against the Coyotes, Brassard was going to retrieve the puck in the corner of his own end, with Phoenix captain Shane Doan trying to do the same. The rookie, who weighs about 35 pounds less than Doan, lowered his shoulder and initiated the contact with the big forward.

"Last year, the 17 games I played here showed me what I had to get better at," says Brassard. "It's a matter of confidence.

"It's the same for Jake. We don't put pressure on ourselves."

And with each game, they're finding out what they can do on the ice.

For head coach Ken Hitchcock, one of those things that Brassard has done is play solid defensively. He's done it much better than Hitchcock anticipated and that's what's endeared him to the demanding coach.

"We all knew he had the skill level," says Hitchcock. "But his ability to check the puck back and create scoring opportunities off of that has been impressive.

"That's the part that we like the most."

"All I want, is to win." - Rookie Center Derick Brassard

The AHL playoffs last season is where Brassard's development took a big leap. After an unproductive stint with the Blue Jackets, he returned to the Syracuse Crunch and was lights out in April. Then, in 13 playoff games, he recorded four goals and a team-high nine assists.

Brassard was able to maintain that momentum to start this NHL season and has emerged into a reliable top-six forward. His presence, combined with the addition players like Voracek and Kristian Huselius has helped make Columbus a more skilled team than last season's edition.

"With all the guys we've brought in, now we've got some guys that can make plays," says Brassard. "We're a better team."

And with a better team comes the opportunity for more success.

"All I want," says the talented rook, "is to win."

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