Derick Brassard, middle, was selected sixth overall in the 2006 draft but has yet to play a game in the NHL. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)
Derick Brassard stays behind after class
Talented rookie apprentices in AHL
Last Updated Thurs., Jan. 3, 2008
By Chris Iorfida, CBC Sports
Playing hockey again couldn't have come soon enough for rookie Derick Brassard, who picked up right where left off six weeks ago for the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League.
Brassard, 20, returned to the Syracuse lineup on Dec. 29 by notching a pair of assists, including on the game-winner. Brassard was off to a blazing start in his first pro season, tied for the AHL's scoring lead when he suffered a broken jaw in early November.
"We were practising 3-on-2 and I got the puck on the boards and I cut in the middle and one of my teammates didn't see me and I think it was a helmet that hit my jaw," Brassard told CBCSports.ca.
Selected sixth overall in the 2006 NHL entry draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Brassard is the highest drafted player from his class yet to play in the NHL.
Erik Johnson (St. Louis), Jonathan Toews (Chicago) and Nicklas Backstrom (Washington) are all contributing in their rookie NHL seasons, while Jordan Staal and Phil Kessel are veritable staples, playing their sophomore seasons in Pittsburgh and Boston, respectively.
Even players drafted after Brassard such as Minnesota's James Shepherd, Bryan Little of Atlanta and Toronto's Jiri Tlusty have gotten a taste of the NHL.
Brassard is well aware that, temporarily at least, others have jumped ahead.
"I was thinking about that, but everyone told me, it's not the same organization, the same team and the same players," he said. "If I watch [Peter] Mueller or Sam Gagner, they're in their first year, but I can't look at it that way."
Rookie of the year in QMJHL
Besides, a few more days and Brassard's wait could have felt even longer. Like current teen phenom John Tavares, Brassard's September birthdate fell just short of qualifying him for the 2005 draft - Tavares is one of the top scorers in the Ontario Hockey League and has impressed in a limited role for Canada at the world junior hockey championship, but won't be draft eligible unti 2009.
By that point, Brassard had already earned rookie of the year honours in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and played on a winning under-18 Canadian squad that included current NHLers Carey Price and Kris Letang.
Injuries have been the big reason the young centre is not yet dishing passes to Columbus sniper Rick Nash.
Last season in training camp, Brassard separated his shoulder, not returning until late in the season for the Drummondville Voltigeurs. He proceeded to record 15 goals and 34 assists in just 26 regular season and playoff games.
Brassard doesn't think of himself as snake-bit, referring to his injuries as "two bad accidents."
While it's not up to him, Syracuse Crunch coach Ross Yates told CBCSports.ca he believes given Brassard's vision and passing ability, he will be up with the big club before too long.
"He's got such great skills, especially at this level," said Yates. "I think the biggest thing that sets him apart from everyone is his passion.
"He just loves to play the game and he loves to be on the ice in all important situations and have the puck."
Brassard, who has played in exhibition games for Columbus, has scored five goals and 17 assists in 18 games with Syracuse in the AHL this season. (Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
Brassard displayed his play-making ability by racking up 218 points in 151 junior games, all spent with Drummondville. For two of three seasons, he teamed with Guillaume Latendresse, currently with the Montreal Canadiens.
"It was a great experience for both of us," Brassard said. "He's a goal scorer and I'm more of a playmaker, so we fit good together."
Brassard was featured prominently in Gare Joyce's recent book Future Greats and Heartbreaks, which followed Columbus in the months leading to the 2006 draft.
At the time, the club's general manager was Doug MacLean and Gerard Gallant was the coach. They have since been replaced by Scott Howson and Ken Hitchcock, respectively, so Brassard will have to prove himself anew.
Training camp disappointment
He thought he did enough in training camp for Columbus in September to earn a spot but was ultimately sent down. In the best laid of plans, the team's brass undoubtedly wanted the six-foot, 175-pound native of Hull, Que., to string a few months of injury-free play together.
Brassard has scored five goals and 17 assists in 18 games with Syracuse, but has picked up more than points, according to his coach.
"I think it's been good for him," said Yates, a Montreal native. "He's learned how to be a pro both on and off the ice, and I think he'll be a better player in the long run that he's come down here to learn the trade."
In addition to those in the organization, Brassard has also taken advice from his father, Pierre, who spent two productive seasons with the Cornwall Royals in the mid-1970s.
Pierre Brassard was drafted in 1976 by the Montreal Canadiens, then at the height of their powerhouse years. He was also drafted by the Quebec Nordiques, at the time no slouches themselves in the World Hockey Association.
But father told son there was another reason he didn't reach the hockey pinnacle.
"My dad told me he didn't work hard enough to make it," said Brassard. "He tells me to work hard every day and work hard in the gym to be better."
Columbus, the only NHL franchise never to make the playoffs, appear headed in the right direction under veteran coach Hitchcock. Scoring goals on a consistent basis is still one of the club's weaknesses, however.
There's a kid in Syracuse waiting to give a helping hand in that regard if ever they come calling.