BROSSARD – After missing the last eight games, the wait for Brandon Prust’s return to action may finally be over.
On Friday, the 29-year-old left-winger participated in his first full practice alongside the rest of his teammates since sustaining a minor shoulder separation back on Mar. 9 in a 4-3 road victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Prust, whose status will be re-evaluated prior to Saturday night's match up against his most recent former club – the New York Rangers – explained that both his shoulder and his conditioning level are game-ready, noting that he wouldn’t be returning to the Canadiens' lineup otherwise.
“You don't want to come back just because you want to play your old team,” said Prust, whose streak of 223 consecutive games played came to an end three weeks ago. “You want to make sure you're safe to come back and you're not going to do any more damage on the shoulder, so it feels good. I'm ready to go. It doesn't matter who we're playing.”
Prust, who continues to lead the Canadiens with 81 penalty minutes and a plus-13 differential, admitted that watching his teammates play from afar was particularly hard this past week, as the Habs took on the Penguins and Bruins, two of their top rivals in the Eastern Conference.
“It was tough. I hadn't missed any games the last couple of years,” explained Prust, who racked up four goals and nine points in 25 games with the Canadiens prior to being sidelined. “You want to be out there with the team and battling with the guys. It's the worst part of being injured, sitting out and watching them battle.”
Rookie sensation Alex Galchenyuk was equally as excited about the London, ON native's imminent return to the lineup, as the pair found almost instantaneous chemistry playing together alongside Lars Eller earlier this season. The 19-year-old centre, however, pointed out that the significance of Prust’s return extends far beyond registering points.
“He always tells me to keep my game simple, to go in the corners or to move the puck. He helps me a lot. It’s great playing with him,” explained Galchenyuk, partnered with Prust and Eller once again at practice. “I don't think other teams shy away from hitting me when he’s there, because everyone plays aggressively all the time. But, when there are tie-ups in front of the net, it’s more secure when Brandon is around. ”
Prust’s misfortune, having been injured in a third-period foot-race for the puck with Lightning defensemen Eric Brewer and Keith Aulie, brought the issue of hybrid-icing to light, a proposed rule change that is gaining traction amongst the league’s GMs after a string of dangerous collisions have led to similar injuries over the years.
“I wouldn’t be against a rule change like that. I often chase down those clearing attempts that end up as icing calls,” said Prust, who had a career-high three-point game on March 7 at Carolina. “It’s a rule that would affect everyone; you just have to deal with it. It’s not like one team would have an advantage over the other. It’s certainly not a bad rule to put in place, that’s for sure. ”
With a timetable for tough guy Ryan White’s return still unknown, Prust would add another dimension of physicality and experience the Habs would look to as they play a series of five games over the next seven days beginning on Saturday.
“We're glad to have him back,” said Eller. “He's going to make our team better. We can always use a guy like him in the lineup.”
Matt Cudzinowski is a writer for canadiens.com.
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