|RANGERS ON DEMAND
|Prust Looks Back on First Season as a Ranger ||Watch |
By Jim Cerny, newyorkrangers.com
Rangers head coach John Tortorella will tell you straight out that when the Rangers and Calgary Flames made a trade this past Feb. 2 he knew little about one of the players acquired by the Blueshirts. But by the end of the season only two short months later, Tortorella was singing the praises of rugged forward Brandon Prust
, who was picked up from Calgary in that pre-trade deadline deal along with center Olli Jokinen in exchange for wingers Christopher Higgins and Ales Kotalik.
“I’m going to be honest with you, I knew nothing about Prust when we got him except that he was a tough kid who was willing to fight,” said Tortorella. “But that was a great deal for us because when he got here he began to change our locker room with his personality, and he played great for us down the stretch.”
|After being traded to the Rangers from the Calgary Fames in early February, Brandon Prust displayed a remarkable scoring touch to go along with his well-documented abilities as an on-ice enforcer. |
Prust certainly was willing to fight -- that much was a given when the Rangers acquired him. The London, Ontario native was leading the National Hockey League in fighting majors when the Rangers picked him up, and his resume from major junior and the minor leagues was filled with seasons of 200-plus penalty minutes.
However, Prust believed there was more to his all-around hockey game than just the ability to drop the gloves and square off with the league’s top heavyweights. And when Tortorella provided him the opportunity with a more regular role, Prust excelled, teaming with linemates Artem Anisimov
and Jody Shelley to help fuel the Rangers’ surge down the stretch run of the season.
“In Calgary I was put in a role as a fighter, a fourth-liner, and I never got out of that,” said the 24 year-old Prust. “I like being able to play, first, and worry about fighting, second. Other teams know I am willing (to fight) for sure, but here I was more focused on the game.”
Over 43 games with Calgary this season, Prust racked up 98 penalty minutes while registering one goal, four assists, and five points. Given more ice-time in New York, Prust blossomed by scoring four goals and recording nine points over 26 games with the Rangers. He also totaled another 65 minutes in penalties.
A closer look at the numbers reveals that Prust notched five points (3-2-5) in the final six games of the regular season, scoring the game-winning goal in consecutive road wins against the Lightning and Panthers in early April, as well. In fact, three of Prust’s career-high five goals this year were game-winners.
And when not scoring, Prust was a buzzsaw on the forecheck, setting the tone for his teammates game-in and game-out with his tenacious efforts. As he, the rookie Anisimov, and the veteran Shelley quickly formed an on-ice chemistry, Tortorella often pointed to that line as the Rangers’ best over the final few weeks of the season.
“We really came together as a line the last month, and I thought we were great,” said Prust. “We worked real hard, had some skill, and played smart defensively. It clicked, for sure.”
As important as his play, Prust played an equally important role inside the Rangers’ dressing room. Teammates and coaches raved about the leadership and character Prust brought to the club, and Tortorella often praised Prust and Shelley for being catalysts that helped the Rangers regain their footing.
“Those deals really helped set us straight, particularly in the locker room,” Tortorella said of the Feb. 2 trade for Prust and the one 10 days later in which Shelley was picked up from San Jose. “We needed more character in there, we had been missing a certain something, and they provided that.”
“I am always positive, always encouraging guys,” Prust said of his role behind the scenes. “Plus I think you can lead by example, just by how hard you compete every shift. That’s what I try and do.”
Faced with a long off-season, Prust has vowed to improve in all facets of his game to make sure that he does his part in helping the Rangers back into the playoffs next season.
Happy and proud to be a Ranger, Brandon Prust
already has his sights set on 2010-11.
“It didn’t take long for me to feel comfortable here and to make New York my home,” said Prust. “Playing at Madison Square Garden for the Rangers, an Original Six team with a lot of history, it was fun. Coming here rejuvenated my passion for the game. It’s one of the best things that ever happened to me.”