Courtesy of Point Park University

Brassard: ‘I feel like I can be myself here’


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The Panthers' Derick Brassard, Thursday morning in Sunrise, Fla. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Derick Brassard didn't fit in Pittsburgh.

He doesn't sound remotely sure why, but he does sound plenty sure it's no longer his problem.

"When I was there, yeah, that's the only thing I was thinking about, basically," he told me this morning after the Panthers' skate at BB&T Center in advance of facing the Penguins tonight at 7:08. He smiled slightly as he spoke.

Turning serious, he added, "Yeah, I think the last month or so, it was pretty hard for me. Just going to the rink, I was hearing my name, and I knew I had a good talk with Jim a few weeks ago."

That was in early January. Jim Rutherford told Brassard he'd try to trade him.

"I knew I was going to move on, and I think it's from both sides that's what we wanted," Brassard continued before appearing to catch himself. "Not because I didn't like the team or didn't like anyone there. I have a lot of respect for the players and staff there. It was a really fun experience to see how these guys prepare and to see how they do things every day because they're a winning team and know how to win championships. I'll take that as an experience for me."

He then glanced around his new room.

"At the same time, I feel like I can be myself here. I don't think it was the right fit for me there. Now I'm trying to move on, and I'm really excited to be here. I feel like this team in Florida, we're really close. My main focus is on being here."

He wasn't done on the topic yet, though.

"The fact that those guys have won two or three times in Pittsburgh, it's not easy for another player to come in and try to establish yourself, especially when the expectations are high. The role I had in Ottawa or New York was bigger. That wasn't Sully's fault."

Mike Sullivan, of course.

"He had Sid and Geno in front of me."

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, of course.

"We were all at the same position, so sometimes I felt like it was hard for me to be engaged and be involved and be confident in making plays. The power play was focused on the No. 1 unit. Sometimes I would only go out there for 20 seconds. As an offensive player, you want to be out there, to get your touches, to get some confidence. It's just the way it was there. Just the last week or so, I've felt, like, 10 pounds lighter out there. I feel like I'm going to have more responsibility here, playing with some good players."

Bit of a pause.

"It's just too bad it didn't work."

It's been six days since the Penguins traded Brassard, Riley Sheahan and three draft picks to Florida for Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann. In the two games they've played, both have been put on the right wing by Bob Boughner, Brassard on the second line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Vince Trocheck, Sheahan with Frank Vatrano and Henrik Borgstrom. Brassard's got an assist and two shots, Sheahan no points and one shot.

Sheahan's exit was far less prominent from the Pittsburgh perspective, but he, too, expressed a feeling that he'd disappointed the Penguins this season with his seven goals, two assists and minus-7 rating through 49 games.

"I wasn't really sure what was going on," Sheahan said of his reaction to being traded. "You didn't really see any rumors floating around. I'd talk to my agent and things like that, but I didn't really want to get out of there, so I was caught a little bit by surprise. When I first got there, I felt like I was a good fit, I played well, and my confidence grew. But I feel like I took a bit of a step backward this year, for whatever reason, so that was tough. But I'm happy with the move, and this is a good fit for me."

I asked Boughner how both players have fit here.

"I've liked both those guys," he replied. "Brass is sort of a hockey rat. Loves staying out there extra. Loves talking video, Xs and Os, things like that, so it's nice to have a guy who's all-in and cares. He adds real good skill to our top six. Sheahan's been great, too. He's been heavy, a veteran guy with a lot of experience. It's nice to have guys like that. They've both been real solid for us."

All concerned on the Panthers' side -- the Penguins didn't skate this morning -- seemed amply aware of what this meeting will be like.

Boughner said, "I'm sure it'll be emotional for everyone, especially coming so soon after the trade."

Trocheck, the Upper St. Clair native, said, "Every time you go up against your old team, you want to prove something. We can expect a lot out of those two tonight."

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