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Rangers’ Derick Brassard making the most of his opportunities

Derick Brassard #16 of the New York

Derick Brassard #16 of the New York Rangers shoots the puck in the first period against the Detroit Red Wings at Madison Square Garden on Sunday, Feb. 21, 2016 in New York City. Credit: Jim McIsaac

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Derick Brassard’s season didn’t start well. The Rangers center was recovering from offseason wrist surgery and stayed in teammates’ homes for a month while waiting for his Manhattan apartment to be renovated. In his first eight games, he produced a goal and two assists, not exactly the start he wanted.

“There’s ups and down in the season,” Brassard said as the Rangers prepared for a critical three-game California road trip that began here Wednesday night. “Good players are going to be inconsistent, well, everyone outside of Patrick Kane.”

To hear Brassard mention Kane, the Chicago Blackhawks star right wing who has collected an NHL-high 89 points in 70 games — a dozen more than any other player — isn’t surprising.

“He loves the game, follows the game, knows everything about what’s going on with the other teams, even the gossip,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said of Brassard. Vigneault knew Brassard’s father, Pierre, when the families lived in the same Quebec neighborhood while Derick was in primary school.

Vigneault didn’t remember the youngster until reminded of the French connection when he arrived in New York. But he is counting on him now.

Brassard leads the team with a career-high 25 goals and is tied for 10th in goals among NHL centers. He has at least a point in his last four games (three goals, two assists) and a goal in his last three. To help jump-start Rick Nash, who missed 20 games with a leg injury, Vig neault put him on Brassard’s line with Mats Zuccarello, a trio that was very productive for the past two seasons.

Brassard, 28, is the only player who remains on the same team from the blockbuster trade with Columbus on April 3, 2013, that also brought Derek Dorsett and John Moore to the Rangers and sent Marian Gaborik and minor-leaguers Blake Parlett and Steven Delisle to Columbus. Dorsett later went to the Canucks, Moore to the Devils, Gaborik to the Kings (where he won a Stanley Cup), Parlett to the KHL and Delisle to the Flyers’ AHL affiliate.

“You could see (Brassard’s) talent level,” said John Tortorella, his first coach with the Rangers, who is now behind the bench in Columbus. “You could see that he wants to make a difference. I’m happy for him.”

Brassard’s explanation for his progress? “I’m older now, matured a lot as a player,” he said. “It was a matter of coming here to New York, they showed me a lot of confidence right off the bat. I’ve had more opportunities, I’m playing with some really good players and getting put in situations on the ice where you can succeed.”

Part of the change in mindset also stems from a five-year, $25-million contract extension in July 2014, and the resulting pressure. “I know I have to play well,” Brassard said.

Now, with playoff position at stake, Brassard said there’s no time for a slump. “We have to set the tone and peak at the right time, we’re in playoff mode. Other teams are going after us; we lost the Final (in 2014), we led the league in points last year, teams are always hungry against us; we take that as a challenge. What we can control is to show up every day and compete. You owe that to your team.”

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