Friday, December 17, 2010

Brandon Prust: The Guts Which Make Up The Core Of The New York Rangers

The New York Rangers like all teams are a complex combination of things that make them who they are. The Rangers have the heart and soul guys like Callahan, the skill guys like Gaborik and Lundqvist and guys like Dubinsky who fits part way in both, but what gets overlooked when discussing the Rangers is Brandon Prust who is the guts that holds this team together.  Yesterday in discussing the loss of Callahan I talked about how he brings things that the boxscore cannot replace and that was evident at times during last night’s game.  What was also evident in last night’s game is that the Rangers have another guy with many similar qualities to Cally.  One of the biggest differences in this team this year is how they stick up for one another.  With all due respect Cally, and I gave plenty yesterday, he is not the guy that leads that particular charge, Brandon Prust is.

As I said earlier Cally is a heart and soul type player, has skill and shows his leadership on the ice and in the room while playing with a lot of guts in how he hits, blocks shots against anyone.  My intention is to praise Prust above all else for the way he plays the game, the ferocity with which he forechecks, battles in the corner, kills penalties, fights anyone to protect his teammates and plays hurt. 

The Rangers identity as a blue collar team that loves to forecheck and cycle plays right into the strengths for Prust and all season he has combined with Brian Boyle and whomever the other winger was to produce possibly the Rangers most consistent line because while the skill level is not as high as other lines their work rate has never diminished.  It is that fact which forced coach John Tortorella to make the Fedotenko/Avery/Frolov, Boyle, Prust line the third line and even the second line in the absence of Gaborik when initially it was seen as a fourth line.  I cannot say how many times this season, but especially the last month where writing a recap of a Rangers game I said that Boyle and Prust were part of the best line of the night.

The work for Prust does not stop at five-on-five as he has been one of the best penalty killing forwards for the Rangers this season and been immense in helping to fill the void left by the injury to Chris Drury on that unit.  Prust is a very aggressive penalty killer who loves to take away angles and will do whatever it takes to clear the zone.  In addition he has made himself a very big threat to go the other way and a huge reason the Rangers currently lead the NHL in shorthanded goals with 8.  Prust himself has recorded three of them with his last night to tie for the league lead and assisted on two others including a play like the other night where he takes the hit in the corner to work the puck free to Brian Boyle and eventually leads to a two-on-one and a Staal goal. 

Over the past two summers the Rangers have spent a combined 9.3 million dollars on Brashear and Boogaard to be “enforcers” or “goons” or whatever want to call them in an effort to bring toughness to the club and a level of protection for when opponents step out of line.  The problem with all that money is it has been virtually wasted as neither of those guys has filled the role.  Boogaard has had some fights this year, but is continually getting hurt in them and Brashear was an utter waste who just the act of signing was an affront to the locker room following his dirty hit on Blair Betts in the playoff series the prior year.  The guy who has taken on the role of protector and fighter for this club has been Prust since his trade.  He has had some help at least in the standing up part of it from Boyle, Dubinsky and Sauer, but the heavy lifting has been done by Pruster and I would argue it is his example that has emboldened some of the others to follow.  Prust shows his courage and sometimes a lack of smarts because he will fight anyone regardless of the size differential and I love that about his mentality, but for the team’s best interest he does need to have to fight less because of his value on the ice.

When you watch a player like Prust who was seen as nothing more than a grinder or enforcer type when the Rangers acquired him 10 months ago play the night after nearly taking a stick to the eye or play through the pain of a charley horse to which he cannot even straighten his leg after the game it changes the mentality of a club in my opinion.
Over the course of the last couple weeks the question has come up a few different times about Avery or Prust.  On the Avery or Prust question for me there is no comparison as much as fans have loved Avery and the Rangers initial record when he was in the lineup I take Prust without a second thought and I lock him up well beyond next season.  Combine all of these different attributes with the fact he is showing skill with five goals and eight assists in 13 minutes a night and you have a combination not found anywhere else on the club and he becomes a lynchpin that holds it all together and for a the low low rate of 800K.

I think Rangers fans appreciated Brandon Prust already, but I know in the next 6-8 weeks with Ryan Callahan out of the lineup they will come to appreciate Prust even more.  After last night’s game Prust certainly got his just due from his coach when Tortorella said:

"To do the things that he is doing, he is part of our core," Tortorella said. "He is not home grown from our minor league team but he has grown into us. He has been killing penalties, he will fight anybody. He is a big part of who we are. You look at Ryan Callahan, you look at Prust, that is who we are trying to be as a Rangers team."

Also a few weeks back I asked who the most irreplaceable Ranger player was and if I was to write that article today he would be on my list because as I said while he does not have the skill of Gaborik or Lundqvist, the heart and soul of Cally, the combination of the two like Dubinsky or the blue line prowess of Staal and Girardi for me Prust has become the guts that holds it altogether and what is even scarier is his hockey skill just keeps improving to go with everything else.

I do not know who started it, but whomever did they got it right; #InPrustWeTrust