Is Brassard a Fit for Oilers’ Third Line?

Over the past four seasons, centre Derick Brassard has become one of the NHL’s most bounced-around players in recent history. Having played with five different teams over the span of four seasons (the New York Rangers, Ottawa Senators, Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers, and Colorado Avalanche), Brassard has become an NHL journeyman and currently finds himself without a contract for the upcoming season.

Penguins center Derick Brassard
Former Penguins center Derick Brassard (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

Throughout his career, Brassard has been heavily relied upon to provide secondary scoring on second and third lines, therefore given Edmonton’s lack of proven offence in their bottom six, signing the former sixth-overall pick to a professional try-out (PTO) should be a legitimate option general manager Ken Holland should be looking at.

Hole at Third-Line Center

As the Oilers roster sits right now, Swiss import Gaëtan Haas and power forward Jujhar Khaira are penciled in to be competing for the third-line centre vacancy (assuming head coach Dave Tippet will pair Connor McDavid together with Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will spearhead the second line).

As I mentioned in a recent episode of “The Basement Hockey Podcast”, I am not the biggest fan of NHL teams bringing players exiting, or past, their primes from the Kontinental or Swedish Hockey Leagues to try their luck for the last time in the best league in the world. These players usually end up returning back to their respective leagues after not receiving top-six minutes, thus hitting their ego more-so.

Gaetan Haas Johan Larsson
Gaetan Haas of Switzerland, right, and Johan Larsson of Sweden during the Ice Hockey World Championships (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)

At the age of 27, Haas will provide the Oilers with another right-handed option at the centre position in addition to Kyle Brodziak, but will lack the consistency and durability to play a full 82-game season in a key position. Haas is expected to play key defensive minutes on the penalty kill as well as provide consistent secondary scoring.

Although his two-way game is Haas’ strength, Brassard may be a better option to slot into the third line centre position because of his proven ability to play up and down the lineup, produce, and defend simultaneously throughout his career. Haas did not put up dominating numbers in the lowly NLA, so why should be trusted to produce and defend in a league that is ten times more skilled and competitive?

Jujhar Khaira, on the other hand, is a natural left-wing power forward who would benefit from playing alongside a veteran like Derick Brassard instead of being given more than he can handle on his plate as he has in the past few seasons. Khaira has been one of Edmonton’s only hopeful pieces in the bottom six lately and has shown commendable growth from being put into situations that were out of his reach at his stage of development.

Edmonton Oilers Jujhar Khaira Minnesota Wild Nick Seeler
Edmonton Oilers left wing Jujhar Khaira and Minnesota Wild defenseman Nick Seeler battle for the puck (Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports)

The 212-pound native of Surrey, BC is by far one of Edmonton’s best board-play players and will not be able to win as many battles for the team in the trenches if asked to play centre. Khaira has a unique ability to win contested battles and impose his physical presence in the dirty areas and could certainly create loose puck opportunities off the wing for potential skilled line-mates like Alex Chiasson or Markus Granlund. Jujhar is ultimately needed on the wing, and Brassard would be an ideal line-mate for him as a skilled, proven veteran who could help elevate Khaira’s offensive game.

Why Brassard?

The Oilers have almost nothing to lose by giving Brassard an opportunity to compete for a roster spot. Being a 32-year-old veteran of the league and having once been able to produce a commendable 40 to 50 points per season, he will certainly be motivated to return to top form, just as new Oiler James Neal will be this upcoming season.

Derick Brassard during his career year in the 2014-15 (Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports)

Brassard actually put up four more points than Neal last season (23 points in 70 games versus Neal’s 19 in 63 games) split between three teams, and the Oilers could benefit from having two successful, motivated veterans coming into training camp to not only help drive the compete levels of other players, but hopefully elevate team play and morale to a playoff standard.

Brassard will probably not produce the numbers he did during his time with the New York Rangers, but I think it is acceptable to expect a solid 30 points for a depth player like him with the exceptional offensive capabilities that he has shown in the past. The former 60-point player can also play on both the power play and penalty kill, providing the special teams coaches with a reliable, experienced player to lead on the secondary units in which he can provide stability and skill. The Oilers could also benefit from his respectable face-off pedigree, having averaged a 49.4 winning percentage over the past four seasons, the best stretch of face-offs he has had in his career.

Derick Brassard could help the Oilers in the face-off department (Dave Gainer/THW)

I think it is a reach to expect him to be this year’s version of Alex Chiasson, but the Oilers should definitely invite Brassard into camp to try and earn a spot. I don’t expect Brassard to have a career year like Chiasson did after his pro-try out, but an opportunity to play on the Oilers third line on a team that could benefit from his veteran experience and secondary skill could help the journeyman find a new place for himself in an ever-changing NHL.

If it all works out and Brassard produces about 30 points, I think it is safe to say he would be a highly sought-after depth player in next year’s free agency period and would definitely be able to find a home for himself before this time next summer.