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Brassard eyes fresh start with Islanders after he 'kind of disconnected'

Center, who played for three teams last season, craving stability, increased offensive role

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

EAST MEADOW, N.Y. -- Derick Brassard was looking for the right fit as an unrestricted free agent after playing for three teams last season.

It took nearly all summer to find it, but the center said he believes he's in the right place after signing a one-year contract with the New York Islanders on Aug. 21.

Brassard, who turns 32 on Sept. 22, opened last season with the Pittsburgh Penguins and had 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 40 games. He was traded to the Florida Panthers on Feb. 1 and then to the Colorado Avalanche 24 days later. He scored four goals in 20 regular-season games for the Avalanche and helped them qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"It was pretty tough," Brassard said at the Islanders practice facility after an informal skate on Wednesday. "But that's not anything I can control as a player. I just have to remind myself that I've played some really good hockey and I can be an effective player. But three teams in one year, and Florida for two or three weeks, knowing that I'm going to get moved, it was pretty hard. I kind of disconnected from hockey a little bit because I was just waiting to get dealt at the deadline again."

Projected to be New York's third-line center, Brassard has 451 points (176 goals, 275 assists) in 786 NHL games with the Columbus Blue Jackets, New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Penguins, Panthers and Avalanche. He helped the Rangers reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2014 and scored 27 goals for them during the 2015-16 season.

But Brassard's production has dipped since then; he has broken the 40-point plateau once since, in 2017-18, when he had 46 (21 goals, 25 assists) for the Senators and Penguins. Though the Avalanche reached the second round of playoffs last season, Brassard had one assist in nine games. He'll be asked the fill the void left by center Valtteri Filppula, who played in all facets for the Islanders last season and had 31 points (17 goals, 14 assists) in 72 games. Filppula signed a two-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings on July 1.

Video: Brassard agrees to one-year contract with Islanders

The Islanders open the regular season on Oct. 4 against the Washington Capitals at Nassau Coliseum.

"I think I have a lot to prove this year," Brassard said. "I played some really good hockey before last season and I kind of bounced around a little bit. It was hard to get going, but I like the opportunity I have here. I like this team, I like the way they play. They play four lines, they use everyone, they play all their [defensemen]. For me, I need to go out there and prove that I can play and help this team win some games.

"I'm just really excited to be here. I know how passionate the fans are in this building; I've played [at the Coliseum] many times, and I'm just looking forward to my first game."

Brassard's biggest impact could come on the power play, an area where the Islanders struggled for much of last season and finished 29th in the NHL (14.5 percent). He said he still believes he can contribute on the man-advantage, but he didn't receive much ice time with the Penguins.

"In Pittsburgh, a lot of times they were a one-unit team, which is normal with [center Sidney] Crosby and [center Evgeni] Malkin and all those guys," Brassard said. "Sometimes I was getting lost a little bit and I didn't feel like I was, you know, having any role or anything.

"I didn't know [the Islanders] were struggling on the power play, but there's a lot of talented players here. I'm sure we'll find a way to be successful this year. The power play can win you games, and special teams, so we're going to have to be better."

Brassard has been joined in New York by former Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov, who signed a four-year, $20 million contract (average annual value $5 million) on July 1. The Islanders are returning a roster similar to one that finished second in the Metropolitan Division last season, but Brassard said the adjustment will be a bit easier with a familiar face.

"He was my partner in Colorado on the plane and everything. I got to know him a little bit," Brassard said of Varlamov. "He's another guy looking forward to this season. I don't think it ended [in Colorado] like he wanted, but he's a proven No. 1 goalie. You can tell he's getting himself ready for the season. I'm sure he's going to be a big part of this team.

"It's an exciting time. Every time you start a new season, I think everyone is pretty excited, obviously. We saw a lot of teams got better in the summer and our division especially, so it's going to be a big test for us."

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