NEW YORK -- New York Rangers center Derick Brassard doesn't hide from the fact that he's a big fan of Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.
Brassard played against Crosby as a member of the Drummondville Voltigeurs in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League when Crosby was with the Rimouski Oceanic.
He enjoyed the battle then, and is enjoying it now in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I'm a big fan of the way [Crosby] plays the game; he's always been a dynamic player," Brassard said Thursday. "I like to play against him, like to play against good players. He's always really dangerous offensively so you can't fall asleep out there. You have to be on your toes. Every time I've played against him in the playoffs I make certain I'm playing with a lot of emotion.
"I think it really helps me to get that edge in my game."
Brassard has been an offensive force against the Penguins throughout his seven seasons in the League. He's played a big part in helping the Rangers build a 3-1 lead against the Penguins in this best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series, with three goals in four games.
Since joining the Rangers in a trade with the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 3, 2013, Brassard has 12 goals and 21 points in 21 regular-season and playoff games against Pittsburgh. He also has seven of his 11 career playoff goals against the Penguins.
"It's just exciting to come to the rink every day wearing the Rangers jersey; it's special and I've always felt this way since the trade," Brassard said. "I still remember that day when I got the news I was traded. I thought about how amazing it would be to play in New York, the fans, the arena and the jersey. It's just special."
In 174 regular-season games with the Rangers, Brassard has 42 goals and 116 points. He had 58 goals and 169 points in 309 games in parts of six seasons with the Blue Jackets. Obviously the increased workload and more responsibility has helped him develop his game.
"Derick has become a solid, two-way hockey player," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "Very dependable when he doesn't have the puck. And when he has it he's making plays and willing to go to the tough areas to make those plays. He's one of our young players who is progressing and coming along."
He's also making a name for himself playing against Crosby.
Brassard has one more goal in the series than Crosby. Crosby's two goals came in the Penguins' 4-3 win in Game 2, while Brassard has scored one goal in three of the four games.
They've also battled throughout the series in the faceoff circle. While Crosby has won 16 of the 25 faceoffs they've taken, Crosby won more in Games 1 and 4 while Brassard beat him on eight of 12 faceoffs in Games 2 and 3.
"The biggest surprise for me is his defensive game," said Rangers forward Rick Nash, a teammate of Brassard's in Columbus. "I've known him for as long as he's been in the League to have a good offensive game. But the way he's playing against other team's top lines and keeping that plus/minus is what impresses me the most."
Brassard, 27, has finished with a positive plus/minus rating in all three regular seasons with the Rangers, as well as all three playoff runs with them, despite being matched against the top players from the opposition on a nightly basis. He's plus-3 in four games against the Penguins.
He's also growing off the ice. Few were surprised when Brassard said Wednesday, prior to the start of the Rangers' 2-1 overtime win in Game 4, "I don't see ourselves losing this game."
"He has to [be a leader]," Nash said. "He's a guy who has played almost 500 career games and he's not a kid anymore. He's not the young guy that can use that as an excuse. He's a guy who has to step up his game and be a leader and that's exactly what he's doing. I think when you look at good teams it's not just the guys with letters on their jerseys that are our leaders; it's everybody."
Brassard has relished his leadership role when he's been needed to step up.
"I think our leadership group is really strong here," Brassard said. "They've been together for a long time. But I've been in the League for seven years now and I want to be a big part of this team. This team needs me to be really good to go far so I have to lead somehow.
"In the playoffs I've been trying to lead by playing with emotion and passion; that's what I bring to the table."