Saturday, June 4, 2011

Rangers Player Review: Brandon Prust Warrior Mentality, Growth Epitomized Rangers Season

Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images
There is no player that gave more of themselves this season for the New York Rangers than Brandon Prust, which is why he was rewarded with the 2010-11 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award at the conclusion of the season.  The lure of the season Prust put in only grew following the year when it was announced that he appeared in all 82 games despite the fact that he would require surgery to repair a torn labrum.  It is that kind of warrior mentality that willed the New York Rangers to overachieve during the 2010-11 season.
This year was one in which Prust showed that he was more than just a fighter or a fourth line player at the NHL level.  The combination of forechecking prowess, skilled penalty killing, excellent defense and offensive contributions made Prust one of the more valuable Rangers this season.  Prust helped epitomize the Rangers mentality and system of playing physically on the forecheck, sacrificing the body to block shots and being responsible on both ends of the ice.  His play earned him not only the respect of his teammates and the league, but the trust of the coaching staff to trust Prust in critical situations. 
The way he carries himself is what makes him respected by those around the league and especially within the locker room.  It is why on multiple occasions this season teammates said playing with Prust was an honor.  When you watch a warrior take on all comers and play though pain as Prust did this season, it forces every person on the team to take a harder look in the mirror when they would want to complain about physical injury.  As Prust said this season, “It’s just pain.”
With the increased ice time, Prust established career highs in all statistical categories offensively with 13 goals and 16 assists.  For the Rangers, who struggle with offensive consistency, to get 13 goals from a player who was considered by most as a fourth liner coming into the year is a huge boost.  Most impressive about his offensive contributions is the fact that five of his 13 goals were while the team was shorthanded.  To have that kind of threat going the other way while killing penalties helps not only on the scoreboard, but in killing off penalties because the opposition has to account for the potential of him going the other way.  He earned the trust of the coaching staff to be out there on the penalty kill and he rewarded them with the way he performed, which was the epitome of his 2010-11 campaign.
Beyond the willingness to play through injury and the contributions he made with his own play, one of the things you love most about how Prust plays is the way he defends teammates and backs down from no one.  Prust recorded 18 fighting majors this season and many were in the defense of teammates who the opposition had taken liberties with during the course of the game.  The fact that he kept fighting with his shoulder as bad as it was only speaks to his toughness though maybe not to his smarts.  If there is one criticism of Prust from this past season it is that he has no clue how to say no to a fight.  Both for his health and different situations in games, Prust is going to have to learn when to walk away without dropping the gloves because of his value to the team on the ice. 
Once considered an extra in the Olli Jokinen trade, the 27-year-old Prust has found his role in the NHL as an energetic grinding winger that provides value in numerous ways for this team.  If he can build off the 2010-11 season, then the Rangers will only continue to reap further rewards from him and have themselves an invaluable checking-line player.
For Prust it might be just pain, but his contributions to the Rangers were far from plain as he provided offense, defense, toughness and heart to a team looking to find their identity.  With one more season at $800,000 he is one of the best bargains on the team and another season like this one and he will be rewarded with a pay increase on his next deal.