PITTSBURGH -- Even now, the details come back vividly to Derick Brassard.
Finding out he’d been traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets, his only NHL team, to the New York Rangers. The whirlwind trip on the private jet from Columbus to New York City. The frantic trip to Madison Square Garden for his first game with his new team.
“We got to the rink and the guys were going to warm-up already,” Brassard recalled in an interview Tuesday.
It has been nothing short of a meteoric rise for the former sixth-overall draft pick, since that day in April 2013.
He recorded a goal and three assists in his first game in a new jersey and almost instantly the fit between player and team, team and player was evident.
“I would say I was shocked," said Brassard, a native of Gatineau, Quebec. "I hadn’t really heard my name out there. ... When I got traded we were playing the same night, so I think it kind of helped me out to get in there in the team there and kind of come in and had no pressure because I had no time to think. I came in the rink at about 5:30, I just had to dress up and play. And I remember it went really well and from now on I was just like, I just took off, basically.”
The addition of Brassard changed the Rangers. You might point to the acquisition of Rick Nash or Martin St. Louis, but the trade that brought Brassard, Derek Dorsett, John Moore and a sixth-round pick to New York for Marian Gaborik, Blake Parlett and Steven Delisle sparked the Rangers' renaissance.
Brassard recorded 11 points in the 13 games in which he played for the Rangers to close out the 2012-13 regular season, then added 12 points in 12 postseason games.
Over the next two seasons, Brassard saw his point totals jump from 45 in 2013-14 to 60 this season.
And he continues to flourish in the postseason. Last season, he chipped in 12 points, including two game-winners during the Rangers’ run to the Stanley Cup finals. This season, the Rangers took a 2-1 series lead Monday night and are preparing for Game 4 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinals with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Already, with the Rangers again picked by many to make a long playoff run, Brassard leads the way with two goals in three games.
It's not just his offense that makes the nifty center with the quick release so impressive. In fact, coach Alain Vigneault starts answering the question about Brassard's evolution as a complete player before it is fully asked.
“He’s become a very dependable two-way hockey player,” Vigneault said Tuesday. "His knowledge of the game has really improved, his confidence. He’s going up against all the top lines in the league, and he’s doing a real good job for us and we need that. We needed that evolution, and we got it from him.
"I would say it’s probably a process of a normal young player that’s got a lot of upside offensively but needs to learn to become an effective NHL player, and that’s what Brass has done."
Brassard was known in Columbus as a rink rat, early to the ice and the last to leave it. But he was also a player, like many talented young players, who had to learn to play a complete game to realize his potential, had to learn to incorporate the details into his game and not just rely on raw talent.
Lots of such players never do get it.
Brassard got it. And by stepping into the No. 1 center role, he has helped establish a better core down the middle for the Rangers, which is imperative to long-term playoff success.
“His evolution is obvious,” said a coach familiar with his game. "He’s learning to play with the big boys."
Rangers associate coach Scott Arniel, who previously coached Columbus, said Brassard's recent attitude is impressive. Last summer, after Brassard signed a five-year deal worth $25 million, he elevated his game and took on a more active role as a leader with the Rangers, Arniel said.
“Some players get comfortable,” Arniel said.
“He’s a very confident kid since he’s come to New York,” Arniel said. "He wants to be a top player in New York."
Teammate Carl Hagelin said he believes Brassard is on his way to being that top player.
“He came over right before the playoffs two years ago, and he had a really strong playoffs,” Hagelin said. "You could see how he’s extremely good with the puck. He sees the ice well. I think this year [he] took another step -- getting 60 points for the first time in his career -- and just overall playing really well.
“You could see how he’s working the full ice. I think his defensive game has probably improved as well. He’s getting a lot of pucks, and he’s getting a lot of three-on-twos because he’s winning his battles."
Brassard figures the successes he has enjoyed in the past couple of years is a function of being in the right place and simply growing up.
“I think early on in my career, I think it was the most frustrating part,” Brassard said. "When I got drafted from the first four years in Columbus, two times I was out with shoulder surgeries four to six months. I think it kind of slowed me down a little bit. I think confidence was affected. I think now, here in New York, I’m more mature. I’m 27.
“Yeah, I knew I could give more, and right now I think I’m just showing that."