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The ultimate warrior

by Jeff Angus / Vancouver Canucks
Brandon Prust is widely regarded as one of the toughest and most fearless players in hockey. But will he make the Canucks a better team in 2015-16?

Most Canuck fans have one specific memory when they hear Brandon Prust’s name – and it involves him taking on Rick Rypien in a spirited scrap during a heated Vancouver-Calgary contest many years ago. The fight featured two undersized and fearless wingers trying to carve out respective roles for themselves in the NHL.

And Prust’s game hasn’t changed at all since then – in fact, he’s been the same player ever since walking - or skating, more accurately – his way onto London Knights lineup during his time in the Ontario Hockey League. Prust isn’t the biggest or the fastest player, but he is rarely outworked and he is willing to do anything to help his team win.

Like most depth forwards in the NHL, Prust’s path to a full-time role has been a bumpy one.

He was drafted by Calgary back in 2004, and spent the first few years of his professional career in the AHL. After starting to get his feet wet at the NHL level with the Flames, Prust was subsequently traded away from Calgary in 2009. However, in a rarely seen transaction, the Flames re-acquired him only a few months later. Sellers regret, perhaps?

Prust also has the distinction of being involved in two separate Olli Jokinen trades (feel free to use this during your next trivia night). After spending more time back in Calgary, Prust was shipped to Broadway, where everything started to come together. In his first full season with the New York Rangers (2010-11), he suited up for all 82 games, scoring 13 goals and adding 160 penalty minutes. Prust hasn’t managed to repeat those totals since then, but he has carved out a nice career for himself in New York, and later Montreal.

Due to his fearless playing style and lack of size relative to many of his combatants, Prust has also battled injury over the years. But this hasn’t changed his game at all – he’s still more than willing to step in and take on anybody at any time.

Prust was acquired for what he will bring to the Canucks off of the ice just as much for what he brings on it. He is regarded around the league as a quality teammate, and in Vancouver his role as mentor and leader to many incoming young forwards – potentially even Jake Virtanen this season – cannot be overstated. He will give Derek Dorsett a break from having to be the guy to drop the mitts every night – and both Dorsett and Prust can play a regular shift (and they will likely spend many of these shifts together on the fourth line).

Prust’s new teammates – especially the younger ones – now know that they have a few guys that are willing to back them up if necessary. Neither Prust nor Dorsett are going to scare anybody into completely avoiding any physical contact against the Canucks (there are probably only one or two players in the NHL who can change the course of a game with their physicality or intimidating presence), but they will give their teammates a bit more breathing room to play more aggressively.

Here’s an example of his fearlessness, taking on one of those two players mentioned above:

Prust only has one year left on his current contract, and fourth line players who play as hard as he does typically don’t have the longest of careers (especially after the age of 30). If he is able to play well over most of the season, don’t be surprised to see him back in Vancouver for a few more years. General manager Jim Benning has created some flexibility for the team next summer, and it will give the Canucks some options depending on how ready their next wave of talent is.

2015-16 is a very important year in Vancouver – will the Canucks be able to quickly retool on the fly? Or do they need to shift their outlook to the longer term? Prust isn’t going to make or break this season, but he will play a key role in helping the players who could.

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