I was struggling to figure out what to write about for my maiden post. Its been a while since I blogged about sports. Heck, the last time I operated a Habs fan site was back in 2001. So I opted to discuss my favorite Marc Bergevin move (aside from drafting Galchenyuk): The signing of Brandon Prust.
Bergevin realized his team needed to get tougher and he needed to improve his bottom six depth. He went out and signed Prust to a four-yr/10 million dollar deal this summer. On paper, looks pretty steep financial commitment to a guy who only contributed 17 points in 82 games and finished -1 while playing for the leagues second best team (New York Rangers). The year before that, he had a solid season with 13 goals and 29 points in 82 games. The most important number there to me is not the point totals. It’s the games played. All 82 games, each of the last two years. In fact, Prust has had only one significant injury his entire career: A broken jaw suffered in a fight in 2009/10 that caused him to miss 31 games. For a team that was decimated by injuries last season, signing a durable contributor is money well spent in itself. And we all know our other free agent signing, Colby Armstrong is always one hit away from missing two months of action.
But what’s endearing him to the fans in Montreal – and myself especially - is the intangibles that aren’t always measured in the point column. From the start of the season, Michel Therrien employed Prust on the line with top pick Alex Galchenyuk and rookie Brendan Gallagher. Prust is a keen penalty killer with good defensive instincts. He’s also very good a cycling the puck and going into the dirty areas to dig them out. He can certainly hold his own playing with talented scorers. And when you have your 19 year old future star paired up with a 5’7” 20 year old, it’s nice to know other teams need to think twice about taking liberties with them. Hit them, you’re getting hit. Hard. And aside from one cheap shot that knocked out Gallagher – which I fully expect will be avenged on April 3 – both Gallys have had a lot of space to work with on the ice. That confidence to drive fearlessly to the net and having it rewarded with early offensive success has certainly sparked their development. Knowing rookies tend to make mistakes, especially defensively, having a solid back checker like Prust on their line has negated the effect of some of those mental lapses. And to their credit, they all lead the team in +/- so far this season. This is a role that Prust is no stranger to. While playing for the London Knights in the OHL, he was regularly paired up with future Rocket Richard trophy winner Corey Perry on the team’s top line. He was also responsible for shutting down Sidney Crosby when they matched up against the Oceanic during the 2005 Memorial Cup.
The biggest intangible that Prust brings to the team, in my opinion is character. With the new regime trying to install a winning culture, going out and bringing in strong character players helps. Prust is the type of player the Habs have been missing. Montreal has generally lacked the type of on-ice leader who is willing to sacrifice his body to block shots, stand up for teammates, kill penalties and be a voice in the locker room. Josh Gorges has been that person but he has needed some help in that department the last couple of years. You can’t do it alone and now he doesn’t have to. With a veteran presence capable of holding others accountable, he’s the perfect face for a team whose new motto is posted on the wall of the locker room: NO EXCUSES.
Prusty wasn’t a flashy signing. He’s not Zach Parise or Ryan Suter. He’s not going to win a scoring title in his lifetime. He can help you win games, though. Some argued at the time that the Habs overpaid for him. From what I’ve seen from him on the ice so far this season, the Habs signed him for a discount. He’s made quite an impression with me and after decades of following the Habs, I’m not easily impressed by much of anything anymore. There’s two ways to ‘get tougher’. One way is the Maple Leaf way: Plug in one-dimensional goons like Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren into your lineup and play them 5 minutes a game. Or you can go out and employ solid, physical, defensive minded players who aren’t liabilities with the puck. This is known as the smart way. Prust certainly fits that latter mold. Oh, and he also tied for the league lead in fighting majors last season with 20. So he can throw down with the best of them. I’ve never been a believer of having a five minute, fourth line of thugs. To me, its wasted depth. Prust filled a need and compliments it with usable skills. After helping to beat his former team Saturday night for the second time in a week, maybe now Therrien can give him a new short-term challenge: Help Eric Cole awaken from his season-long slumber.
Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Photo: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports