|Undrafted in junior to NHL vet, it's been a long road for Habs forward Brandon Prust |
(Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
It's been a month of milestones for Brandon Prust, who played his 400th game on December 12th against the Los Angeles Kings, then recorded his 100th point on a goal Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators. Only, when he scored, it was the second time that Prust celebrated.
"It's kind of a funny story," says Prust, who currently sits at 914 career penalty minutes. "A couple games ago, (P.A.) Parenteau said I was at 98 points and wanted to help me get to 100. I got another one, so I thought I was at 99 before (December 16th against Carolina). When I got that goal, I thought I hit 100 and took the puck with me after the game. It was only when I got home to check my stats that I realized it was only my 99th."
He laughs, then acknowledges the value in reaching a milestone like 100 points for a player like him. "I've been lucky enough to earn some good minutes in my career, and it's gone a long way."
Going undrafted in junior, Prust played for the London Nationals in the Ontario Junior B ranks for the 2001-02 season before being invited to training camp for the London Knights of the OHL the following year. At 18, he made the team as a walk-on.
He adapted the role of tough guy, acting as bodyguard for the likes of Corey Perry, Dylan Hunter, Rob Schremp, accumulating 673 total penalty minutes and over 70 fights in his three years with the Knights. Once he secured a spot in the lineup, he developed his offensive abilities, earning more ice time and scoring 52 points in his second season with the Knights.
"After my second year in the O, I put up a lot of points and fought nearly all the heavyweights in the league. I had 20 points in the playoffs (in 15 games) and I knew that I would have been noticed by teams heading into the draft. I was two years older than a lot of guys (in the 2004 draft class), but I was confident."
The Calgary Flames took Prust in the 3rd round (70th overall), sending him back to London for the 2004-05 season.
The Knights went on to have one of the greatest seasons in junior hockey history, going undefeated for the 31 games of the year, finishing the campaign with a 59-7-2-0 record, winning all but two games in the post-season to clinch the OHL Championship, then thumping the Rimouski Oceanic of the QMJHL 4-0 in the Memorial Cup finals, shutting down generational talent Sidney Crosby with a line of Prust, Drew Larman, and Trevor Kell.
Prust went to Flames training camp that summer, then was sent to the club's AHL affiliate in Omaha, Nebraska. In his first season with the Ak-Sar-Ben Knights, Prust tallied 12 goals, 26 points and 294 penalty minutes.
"I wanted to prove that I could kill penalties and log minutes, as well as be someone who was responsible and took on anyone that challenged our team or took liberties on my teammates."
He played 10 games with the NHL Flames in 2006-07 -- his first two fights were Jody Shelley and Shawn Thornton -- then spent the rest of that campaign and the following year in the minors.
It wasn't until 2008 that Prust made the team full-time, however, it was a season marred with injuries and movement; a broken jaw sustained in a fight against Cam Janssen, getting dealt to the Phoenix Coyotes at the deadline, then being traded back to the Flames that off-season in a move that capped off a frustrating year for the 25-year-old.
In his the first half of 2008-09, Prust had one goal in 43 games and was a healthy scratch on several occasions. "I wasn't really playing, and it's tough to prove you deserve a spot when you're getting as little as two or three minutes a night. You can't do anything with that ice time."
That February, he was traded to the New York Rangers, and immediately thrived under new head coach John Tortorella, putting up nine points in 26 games.
|"That trade (to New York) was the best thing to happen to my career"|
That 2010-11 campaign saw Prust reach career highs in goals (13), assists (16), points (29), and penalty minutes (160), along with finishing third in the league with five short-handed goals. It was the definition of a breakout season, a prime opportunity for the native of London, Ontario to make a name for himself and earn a reputation for being one of the top role players in the game.
The following year saw the Rangers reach the Eastern Conference finals against the New Jersey Devils, losing the series in six games. Prust was a free agent that summer, and talked about the idea of heading into the open market.
"It's a cool time for any athlete (to go to free agency), you get to see what people think you're worth. I knew I was going to test the waters, and New York said they were going to try and match whatever offer I received. Lots of teams were showing interest and offering me good deals, but Montreal seemed like a great fit for me (signing with the Habs for 4-years/$10 million). They were rebuilding and I wanted to be apart of that."
It didn't take long for the gritty forward to be loved by Canadiens fans, playing a key role in the team's success over the past few seasons, helping create space for his teammates, making point of a certain large-retina'd overweight mammal, continuing to play the role of reliable bottom-six forward who can step up when called upon.
At age 30, Prust recognizes that hockey's fight totals are declining, and finds himself picking his spots when it comes to dropping the gloves over the course of a season.
"You come into the league and want to establish yourself as a player who can go on a moment's notice, and I did a good job of that coming in. I remember my first few years in the NHL, there weren't any nights where you'd line up and not find someone willing to go. It happened a little more organically.
"I still try to create energy if I need to get my team going or if I need to defend someone, but there's definitely more people who say no then there used to be."
Now in the back half of his career, Prust says he hasn't given too much thought to what he'll do once he retires, although he wants to stay in the game. "I don't think I'll get into coaching, but maybe train with young guys or some kind of player development. You usually get a better idea of what you're gonna do once you're actually done."
Hunter Crowther has covered hockey for several different websites and currently studies journalism in college. You can follow him on twitter @HunterCrowther or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org