With the regular season winding down, besides the annual battle to accumulate as many points as possible down the stretch to earn a spot in the postseason, the Rangers fans have another important task at hand: Deciding who will be honored as the 2010-11 Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award recipient.
If you’re unfamiliar with this award, each season prior to the Rangers’ final home game, a New York Ranger is selected by the fans to be honored with the award and presented with a check in their name for $25,000 to the Steven McDonald Foundation. McDonald, who has been presenting this award with his family since 1988, was a New York City police officer who was shot during the summer of 1986, leaving him as a quadriplegic.
The award generally goes to someone who has gone above and beyond expectations for the entire season; not necessarily by scoring goals or points, but to a player who shows true grit and determination in all areas.
Ryan Callahan has won the award the previous two seasons, and he would most likely get my vote for the third-straight season, if it weren’t for these two other men, however.
This year there have been two players on the Rangers that continue to impress me every time they step on the ice. Coming into this season, both Brandon Prust and linemate Brian Boyle were an afterthought by not only most Rangers fans, but by the coaching staff as well.
From the first day of camp, to game No. 74 last night against Florida, these two have gone above and beyond the call of duty for the Rangers.
Prust, known primarily as a fighter and low-minutes type of player coming into this season, has morphed into an integral part of the Rangers’ success.
After being considered more of a throw-in to the deal that brought the Rangers Olli Jokinen last season, Prust has become a steal for New York.
Every shift the gritty winger is making something happen. Whether he’s delivering — and finishing — a check, forechecking, blocking shots or dropping the mitts, Prust is noticeable.
Prust’s biggest contributions for the Blueshirts have came in a once unchartered area for the London, Ontario native: the penalty kill. Coming into this season, Prust had earned roughly eight seconds of play while defending with the man-down. This year, Prust is a staple on the Rangers’ penalty kill, earning nearly two-minutes per game, which has clearly shown in the stat column.
Prust is currently tied for first in the NHL in short-handed points with seven, and second in the NHL with five short-handed goals.
With those five shorties, Prust has doubled his career-high in goals, netting 11 this season, while adding 15 helpers.
I didn’t have to go very far to find Prust’s competition, as Brian Boyle has been Prust’s center for the entire season.
Boyle, who wasn’t even sure if he was going to make the team coming out of camp this summer, has been nothing short of spectacular for the Rangers this season.
In his fourth year in the NHL, the Massachusetts native is finally showing the league why the Los Angeles Kings drafted him 26th overall in the 2003 draft.
Coming into this season, Boyle had been extremely consistent in his NHL career. Unfortunately that was a bad thing.
In each of the past three seasons, Boyle had recorded four goals and one assist–besides last year when he had an offensive explosion and notched two assists!
Blessed with the frame of a defensive end in the NFL, the six-foot-seven, 244-pound Boyle had been, well, a bust so to speak thus far in his NHL career and many had little to no expectations for him this year.
Fast forward 74 games and Boyle is fourth on the Rangers in goals (just two behind team-leading Ryan Callahan) with 21, sixth on the Rangers in points and leads the team with 198 shots on goal.
Not only is Boyle scoring goals, but he’s scoring important goals at important times of the game.
Four of Boyle’s 21 goals have come while the Rangers were trailing by one goal, thus tying the game for the Blueshirts. If that wasn’t impressive enough, six of Boyle’s goals have broken a tie for the Rangers, while two of them have been game-winning goals.
Besides his outstanding offensive production, Boyle has been one of the best defensive players for the Rangers all season long, where he has become a shot-blocking machine. Boyle’s 76 blocked shots are good enough for second in the NHL amongst forwards. Of course with that huge frame and shot-blocking prowess, Boyle has cemented himself alongside Prust on the Rangers’ penalty kill as well, averaging two-minutes per game.
I would be shocked if it weren’t one of these two men–if not both–honored with the award this season. Of the award’s 21-years of existence, only in ’89-90 has there been co-winners, when goaltender John Vanbiesbrouck and then captain Kelly Kisio shared the award.
Honorable mentions: Callahan, rookies Derek Stepan and Michael Sauer.