Penguins Predictions: How much will center Derick Brassard play on the wing?
Editor’s note: Beat writer Jonathan Bombulie will make a series of Penguins predictions leading up to the start of training camp Sept. 14.
How much will Derick Brassard play on the wing this season?
A. Not at all
When general manager Jim Rutherford added Matt Cullen and Derek Grant in free agency, he said the increased center depth gave coach Mike Sullivan the option to move Brassard to a wing spot in the top six. Having the option is one thing. Taking it is something different. It would require Sullivan to voluntarily make his team weaker down the middle, which doesn’t really sound like his style. At the end of last season, Brassard said he and Sullivan talked about perhaps switching to the wing but ultimately decided against it. “He wanted us to have four centers,” Brassard said. “He felt like, at that position, nobody in the league was stronger than us. I understand his point. Center is probably one of the most important positions out there.” Has Sullivan’s position changed that dramatically in one offseason?
B. A little bit
Making the decision to move Brassard around the lineup more doesn’t mean he has to declare himself a winger and never play center again. In general, beyond Jake Guentzel, the left wing options on the Penguins roster are better known for their forechecking and defensive responsibility than their offensive prowess. Most times, that’s fine. It provides balance and a two-way conscience to a scoring line. But in cases where the Penguins trail by a goal or two late in a game, it’s not ideal. Perhaps those are the occasions where Brassard gets bumped up to a top-six winger spot.
C. A lot
During his two-plus seasons behind the Penguins bench, Sullivan has alternated between loading up his top six with offensive options and spreading his most dangerous players throughout the first three lines. When he loads up, he’s going to need more firepower on the left side. Brassard, who has hit the 20-goal mark in two of the last three seasons, is the best internal option to fill the role.
B. A little
Over the course of an 82-game season, the Penguins will win more games with center depth than they will with a slight offensive improvement at the second-line left wing spot. Still, it makes sense to spot Brassard on the wing on occasion. It could give the top two lines a temporary offensive boost when such a thing is needed, and it could help keep Brassard play a few more minutes than the average third-line center, which would be a good thing for a player of his caliber. Another thing to keep in mind: Brassard was on a six-game scoring streak, starting to show signs of finding chemistry with Kessel, when a lower-body injury struck late last season. If a longer summer heals what ailed Brassard and Kessel and the pair ends up complementing each other well, this whole discussion is going to look pretty silly in hindsight.
Keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.