Pittsburgh Penguins Should Move Derick Brassard to the Fourth Line

PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 27: Derick Brassard
PITTSBURGH, PA - FEBRUARY 27: Derick Brassard /

Since being acquired by the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 23rd, Derick Brassard has played in 14 games, putting up 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists).

Brassard has spent most of his time in those games with the Pittsburgh Penguins centering some combination of Phil Kessel and a myriad of wingers, including Bryan Rust, Conor Sheary, and even Riley Sheahan. Before his recent injury, which has seen him miss the last few games, Brassard had started to find chemistry with Phil Kessel.  Unfortunately, the Penguins might not have the time to see if Brassard and Kessel can rekindle it before the playoffs.

What the Penguins Line-up Should Look Like for the Playoffs

"Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan RustCarl Hagelin – Evgeni Malkin – Patric HornqvistConor Sheary – Riley Sheahan – Phil KesselJosh Jooris/Tom Kuhnhackl – Derick Brassard – Zach Aston-Reese"

Now you’re probably wondering why in the world you would demote a playoff performer like Brassard to the fourth line for the playoffs. Here’s why: This is the only option that allows the Penguins to roll four actual scoring lines. Sheahan has proved that he can work on the third line with Kessel and whomever else is there. In the last 10 games where Sheahan has centered the third line, he’s put up 8 points in 10 games.

PITTSBURGH, PA – MARCH 31: Riley Sheahan
PITTSBURGH, PA – MARCH 31: Riley Sheahan /

Sheahan, when centering the third line, has put up the same amount of points as Brassard, but in 4 less games. Let me be clear, this is in no way saying Sheahan is better than Brassard. Brassard is a second-line center on most teams in the league. Sheahan is not. What I’m saying is that Sheahan on the third allows the Penguins to have in essence two third lines.

In other words, the Penguins would have 1A (Crosby), 1B (Malkin), 3A (Sheahan/Kessel), 3B (Brassard). Instead of simply trying to force Kessel and Brassard to work together, use what already works. That is Kessel and Sheahan possibly with Sheary or some other winger like Aston-Reese or Simon.

Pros and Cons of Moving Brassard to the Fourth Line

The Penguins have struggled to consistently roll four lines that are an actual threat to score this year. Having Carter Rowney center Ryan Reaves and Tom Kuhnhackl, among others, exposed the Penguins lack of forward depth. Moving Brassard to the fourth line, which I will now call 3B, would allow the Penguins to hopefully pull some offense from the combination of wingers there.

The 3A and 3B lines would ideally see an almost even split of ice-time.  This would allow Kessel to be on the ice plenty and take advantage of the opponent’s 3rd defensive pairing, while creating matchup issues with Brassard’s line. The question for opponents becomes which pairing do you put out against a fourth-line with Derick Brassard? If you’re matching your pairings to the first three lines, having a dangerous fourth line becomes a matchup nightmare.

However, there are some obvious knocks against this plan. First, moving Brassard to the fourth line makes the third less dangerous. In my opinion, it makes the fourth line more dangerous than it hurts the third.  Additionally, to make the fourth line more like a third line in terms of playing time, you have to take the time somewhere, which means less ice-time for Phil Kessel. While it might help to make sure there’s no worries of exhaustion, Phil Kessel seeing less ice time is not a great idea.

PITTSBURGH, PA – MARCH 21: Conor Sheary
PITTSBURGH, PA – MARCH 21: Conor Sheary /

Additionally, with this line-up you’re putting a lot of pressure on guys like Conor Sheary, Zach Aston-Reese, Josh Jooris, and Tom Kuhnhackl to contribute in the playoffs. That’s not a formula for success, but it’s the Penguins blueprint at this point.

Moving Derick Brassard to the fourth line may seem like an outlandish proposal, considering his talent and the Penguin’s needs, but it’s the right move. The Penguins could create matchup nightmares without sacrificing much offensively on the third line. Riley Sheahan is a more-than-capable third line center and Brassard has the talent to make the fourth line potent.