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Brassard gets look centering Blue Jackets' top line

by Brian Hedger
CHICAGO -- The initial changes that new Columbus Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards made for Tuesday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center are being called "tweaks" for now.

The bigger changes will filter out over time, especially once the current road-trip ends after Tuesday's game and the Blue Jackets head home for a four-game stint at Nationwide Arena.

However, one of those early "tweaks" could be a good opportunity for 24-year old center Derick Brassard, whom the Blue Jackets took with the sixth pick in the 2006 NHL Draft. He's being moved back to the top line with Vinny Prospal and Rick Nash, where he will keep filling in for injured star center Jeff Carter, who's day-to-day with a shoulder injury that happened in Sunday's game against the Anaheim Ducks.

Brassard filled in for Carter toward the end of the Blue Jackets' 7-4 loss to Anaheim.

"The last game we finished together and I'm looking forward to being with those two guys again," said Brassard, who has 5 goals and 7 assists with a minus-16 rating in 33 games. "They're elite players and we're probably going to face the (Jonathan Toews) line or (Hawks defensemen Duncan Keith and Keith Seabrook), so I'm just going to be ready to play my game and we'll be fine."

It's a good opportunity for the underperforming Brassard, who scored 17 goals and tallied 30 assists in 74 games last year. This season, former Columbus coach Scott Arniel butted heads with Brassard a little bit and bounced him around between different lines. Brassard also sat out as a healthy scratch several times and his agent publicly questioned Arniel's logic in doing so.

After Tuesday's morning skate, Brassard was offered the chance to share what his relationship with Arniel was, but wisely declined. Until Carter's injury, Brassard was most recently working on the fourth line in a checking role. Was it merely coincidental that his promotion to the top line came just a day after Arniel was fired?

"No idea," Brassard said. "(Arniel) tried me with (Nash) a couple of games this year, too. We'll see how it goes tonight and go from there."

Richards didn't exactly sound married to the change if things aren't going well for that line combination.

"He's been fine (on the fourth line)," Richards said. "We're starting the game with him (with Prospal and Nash). It doesn’t mean we'll finish the game with him there. That's all dependent on them."

In other words, if Brassard capitalizes on a good opportunity, he'll probably stay up in the top six -- possibly even when Carter returns. Richards pointed out how prime of an opportunity this is that's staring Brassard in the face.

"We've got to replace Jeff and as far as options go Brass is one of our … should be one of our most-skilled centermen up there," Richards said. "So it’s putting him in a position where he's playing with Vinny -- who's proven over his career that he's a finisher and a playmaker -- and also with a gamebreaker-type player like Rick. It's putting (Brassard) in a position where he should have success -- and we need him to have success."
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