On July 1st 2012 when it was announced that the Montreal Canadiens had signed gritty forward Brendon Prust to a four deal worth $10 million, most Canadiens fans did not even know who he was and why he was given so much money for what he brings to the table. The Bleu Blanc Rouge wanted Prust so much that newly appointed head coach Michel Therrien and player personnel director Scott Mellanby even visited Prust at his parents’ house with a Habs’ jersey donning Prust’s name and #8.
Drafted 70th overall by the Calgary Flames in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft, Prust played only 78 games with the Flames over four seasons, also including a short stint of 11 games with the Phoenix Coyotes, before being traded to the New York Rangers with Olli Jokinen for Chris Higgins and Ales Kotalik in February 2010.
The 28 year-old winger from London, Ontario, who has never been known for his offensive abilities, was never drafted in junior. He managed to make the London Knights after receiving an invitation to their training camp in the fall of 2002. Through 177 games in the OHL, Prust scored 41 goals and added 70 assists for 111 points. He also racked up 537 penalty minutes and posted a +58 plus/minus differential.
A favorite of John Tortorella (yes it’s possible!), Prust was seen as a fighter, physical enforcer, penalty killer, energy player and true warrior by the very demanding head coach. In 82 games last season, Prust scored 13 goals and 16 assists for 29 points to go along with a +2 rating and 160 penalty minutes. The 6’2” 195-lbs enforcer even led the NHL with 20 fighting majors after dropping the mitts 18 times the year before, also with the Rangers.
But Prust is more than a simple fighter who can’t play hockey. He is an adept penalty killer and he can play a regular shift. After 16 games with the Habs, Prust has recorded 2 goals and 3 assists for 5 points to go along with a surprising +7 differential and a league-leading 71 penalty minutes. The right winger is playing on average 12:43 minutes per game, 2:31 of which are on the penalty kill.
Prust using Steve Ott as a punching bag
But Prust brings more than offensive numbers on a score sheet to the Habs, he brings so many intangibles to the team. Currently playing with über-rookie Alex Galchenyuk and improving Lars Eller, Prust plays with a fearless attitude and a proven leadership every game. He is not afraid to lay a big hit or drive the net in order to create scoring chances for his linemates.
The transition to his new team, the Eastern Conference leaders, has been so smooth that he is already a fan favorite thanks to his hard work and passion. He has 124,434 followers on his Twitter account alone!
His addition, along with Colby Armstrong and Francis Bouillon, has made the Canadiens a more physical team and a harder team to play against, especially at home. Montreal finished last season with a dismal record of 16-15-10 on home ice (the worst record in the NHL), whereas this season they are 7-3 at Bell Centre.
Prust will never be a goal scorer, having scored only 26 goals in 295 NHL games, but he is exactly what the Canadiens needed this off-season as former team “enforcer” Travis Moen has been more than useless this season. The gritty Moen has been nearly invisible this campaign for the Habs, recording only 2 points and 14 penalty minutes in 15 games, fighting only twice and shooting only 9 times on goal. Moen has been relegated on the fourth line because of his lacklustre play, despite playing on the team’s first two lines at times last season.
Prust can also become a mentor for Ryan White, who plays a similar style of play. While can drop the mitts, lay the body and kill penalties just like Prust, but he needs to polish his game and be more disciplined as his untimely indiscipline cost him a few games in the press box. Prust is good at cycling the puck, at blocking shots and at making big hits to get the team going, qualities that Ryan White needs to improve to be in the good graces of head coach Michel Therrien.
Prust is also the team leader in consecutive games played with 214, a testament to his toughness and courage as he is consistently banged up because of his intensity, physical play and hard work. He is the kind of player who is always ready to “take one for the team”, whether it’s a punch, a puck or a hit – the perfect team player!