Brandon Prust is no stranger to having to play his way on to a team
By: Dhiren Mahiban
Sep 20, 2016
The Maple Leafs invited Brandon Prust to training camp on a professional tryout and NHL veteran is hoping to follow Brad Boyes’ footsteps in turning a PTO into a contract.
Brandon Prust is no stranger to tryouts. As a teenager, Prust used a camp invite to crack the London Knights roster ahead of the 2002-03 OHL season. He eventually helped the Knights capture the franchise’s first Memorial Cup in 2005.
Now, at 32, the veteran of 486 NHL games is relying on the experience of his successful OHL tryout to help him with his latest camp invitation.
The Toronto Maple Leafs invited Prust to training camp on a professional tryout, and the London native, who had a season to forget last year, is hoping to follow Brad Boyes’ footsteps in turning a PTO into a contract.
“That was kind of before I had any idea,” Prust said of his inexperience going to Knights camp. “I was just kind of going out – I had an invite to camp. Went out, did my thing and made the team. You take your experiences, especially being an older guy. You take all your experiences [from] throughout your career. It’s kind of what makes you a little wiser as you get older.”
Last summer, heading into the final year of his four-year, $10 million contract, Prust was dealt from the Montreal Canadiens to the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for Zack Kassian. In his first game against the Canadiens, on Oct. 27, Prust suffered a left ankle injury, which derailed his whole season. He initially missed 11 games due to the injury.
Seeing his teammates go 3-5-3 in his absence Prust says he was over aggressive in his rehab attempting to return.
“I had never had an ankle injury before so I definitely pushed myself,” Prust said. “I wanted to get back. The team was struggling a little bit. You want to get back and help. Pushed it a little bit. Obviously looking back, I might’ve waited a little longer.”
Prust appeared in 35 games for the Canucks last season prior to being placed on waivers in February. The 6-foot, 195-pound forward appeared in nine games with the AHL’s Utica Comets before mutually agreeing with the Canucks to part ways. The decision to move on was key for Prust, who knew he was heading into unrestricted free agency. Being healthy enough to have a proper summer of training was crucial in order for Prust to show interested clubs he could still play at the NHL level.
“Obviously that was important for me, just didn’t feel confident and comfortable with injury last year,” he said. “That was the main objective: getting [the ankle] straightened out and figured out so I can focus.”
Prust finished his ninth season with just seven points and 59 penalty minutes – his lowest totals since his rookie season. Asked to assess his year in the Canucks organization, Prust was blunt.
“Well obviously it wasn’t very good, right? It was one of my worst years as an NHLer,” he said. “Got to bounce back from it.”
Prust had a few camp offers to mull over this summer, but his decision became clear when the Maple Leafs came calling. Growing up two hours outside of Toronto, Prust was admittedly a Leafs fan as a child.
“I always watched the Leafs growing up and always dreamed of playing for the Leafs and putting on the blue and white jersey,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I kind of chose Toronto. I knew my heart would be in it and it would definitely bring that passion out in me.”
With Leafs camp set to open this week, and his ankle feeling “back to 100 per cent”, Prust has been busy working with skating coach Barb Underhill to regain, and refine, his stride.
“It’s tough because you’ve had habits for so long and had a certain way,” Prust said. “You definitely have to really focus. You’re not a sponge where you can naturally do it. You really have to practice, and really have to mentally think.
“Since I’ve been with her, I even told her, ‘I’m laying in bed at night thinking of my stride and changing my stride and what I got to do’. She’s like, ‘I didn’t want to do that to you’, but that’s just natural, that’s how you are. I think just being at my age, it’s kind of what you’ve got to do. You’ve got to drill it into your brain.”
Prust admitted his game could’ve benefitted from working with Underhill two or three years ago.
“It’s just little tweaks and little things that, if you can make it natural, if you can practice enough, you can change some things,” he said. “Obviously not going to turn myself into the fastest guy in the league, but little things to get me to the puck quicker, little things that can make me move better laterally – they’re going to help me in the long run.”
Though Prust would like to see his childhood dream come to fruition, the numbers are stacked against him heading into camp. Toronto signed rugged forward Matt Martin to a four-year, $10 million contract on July 1. Rich Clune, who split last season between the Leafs and Marlies, is still with the organization on an AHL contract. On top of that, the Leafs have just two contracts remaining before they reach the max of 50.
“I know if I go out and play my game, and show them that I can still move, I know that I’ll get a fair shot,” Prust said. “I know I can crack the lineup if I prove it. I know what I’ve got to do.”
Five burning questions (and answers) about USA's World Cup debacle
By: Ken Campbell
Sep 23, 2016
Team USA put a bow on one of its worst performances ever on the international stage when it lost its final game in the World Cup of Hockey.
So what are we left to think of Team USA after the debacle known as the 2016 World Cup of Hockey? That’s probably the only question left to contemplate after watching a tournament that started with so much promise and progressed into a six-day tire fire.
There is so much to contemplate about this team. Surely it was not as bad as its record indicated. There were notable omissions on the roster, yes, but so notable that this team couldn’t muster a single goal against a hybrid team of players from third-world hockey countries? So glaring that it could not beat a Czech team that had only three NHL defensemen, not a single one who is a top-four for his varsity team?
Well, let’s see what we can come up with here:
Is this the worst best-on-best showing for an American entry in the history of the game?
Statistically, there’s no question. This team went 0-3-0, finishing the tournament with a 4-3 loss to the Czech Republic in a game in which the American team couldn’t even salvage some pride. But practically speaking, probably not. That dubious distinction still belongs to the 1998 Olympic team, which entered the tournament as the co-favorite to win the gold medal. It had six players who had scored 50 goals in the NHL and five players who would go on to be enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
That team won just one game in the tournament, against Belarus, was beaten 4-1 by the Czechs in the quarterfinal, then trashed their rooms in the Nagano athletes’ village.
This team was bad, even worse than the 1976 Canada Cup team that was loaded with non-NHL players, but given the expectations and talent level of the 1998 team, that still represented the nadir for USA Hockey. This one is close, though.
Is this one of the rare times where the eye test clearly supersedes analytics?
At first blush, you might think so, but once you dig deeper into the numbers, it becomes a little less convincing. It’s easy to forget that Team USA outshot its opponents in each of its three games, even the game against Canada. Overall, it outshot its opponents by a 110-78 margin and the shot attempts were a mind-boggling 212-148. But you also have to remember that the Americans were playing from behind most of the time, so it’s natural that a team sitting on a lead is going to let up and a team playing from behind is going to pour it on.
Still, though, according to www.naturalstattrick.com, the score adjusted 5-on-5 Corsi was plus 24.6 against the Czechs Thursday night and plus-15.1 against Europe. Against Canada, it was (gulp) minus-29.3. The Americans also outhit their opponents by a more than 2-to-1 margin, 90-42, which suggests they were chasing the play quite a bit. Actually, they were chasing the entire tournament. And when it comes to the eye test, was there any time that it seemed the Americans were dictating the pace of the game, where they had things under control, where they were successfully executing a game plan?
“You fall behind early in this tournament and before you know it, you’re 0-and-3 and packing your bags,” said Team USA winger Blake Wheeler. “I think that first game (a 3-0 loss to Team Europe) was the killer. We could just never really recover.”
Did the Americans leave their best goaltender in the stands and on the bench?
Well, we’ll never know how well Cory Schneider would have done had he been given the N0. 1 job on this team because he was never given a real chance. His only action was to mop up the game against the Czechs, a game in which he stopped all seven shots he faced. But we do know that Jonathan Quick surrendered seven goals on 51 shots and Ben Bishop allowed four on 20 shots in what could only be characterized as a shaky performance.
There were some goals against Europe and Canada on which Quick did not have much of a chance. The goaltending wasn’t near good enough and the defensive coverage was so lacking that it made Quick look even worse.
The coach defended his roster and liked its compete level. So if that wasn’t the problem, is it just a matter of USA’s players not being good enough to compete at this level?
Well, it’s pretty difficult to convince anyone that Patrick Kane isn’t one of the NHL’s best players. He has the scoring championship and Hart Trophy to prove it. He also hasn’t scored a goal in a best-on-best tournament since the Olympics in Vancouver. Only four forwards on the team scored a goal and all were outscored by defenseman Ryan McDonagh, who had two. Team USA had 11 power-play opportunities in the tournament and scored just once.
“This team has been kind of characterized as a team just full of plumbers and grinders,” said Team USA coach John Tortorella. “I don’t agree with that. I think we have some really good offensive people. I think we have a really good mix. The bottom line is we leave here with nothing, and so certainly we can’t be happy about that. In a tournament like this, I think you’ve got to be really careful not to lose your mind as far as what’s going on with some of the guys.”
What does the future hold for USA Hockey?
Well, first, you’d have to think there will be some kind of housecleaning done here. Don’t be surprised if a young, bright mind such as Bill Guerin has a more prominent role in the best-on-best player selection process. Mike Sullivan, who won a Stanley Cup this spring, will likely be at the top of the list of coaching candidates. The people who put this team together did it based on a completely flawed logic, then hired the wrong coach and picked the wrong group of players.
Author: (Photo by Rocky W. Widner/NHL/Getty Images)
Is Alexander Steen's four-year, $23-million extension wise for the Blues?
By Matt Larkin
Sep 23, 2016
Alexander Steen is a key member of the Blues' core. But will they regret paying him almost $6 million through his 37th birthday given his recent injury history?
Alexander Steen wasn't healthy enough to compete for Sweden at the World Cup. He's evidently healthy enough to remain a major NHL contributor for five more seasons, though. That's the message his St. Louis Blues sent Friday when they announced his four-year, $23-million extension. It carries a $5.75-million cap hit and pays him through the end of the 2020-21 season. Per Blues beat writer and THN correspondent Jeremy Rutherford, the contract is front loaded, paying Steen $7 million in Years 1 and 2, $5.5 million in Year 3 and $3.5 million in Year 4.
The deal makes a decent amount of sense from a pure, immediate hockey standpoint. Steen has been a key contributor to the Blues ever since they fleeced the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008 and landed him with Carlo Colaiacovo for Lee Stempniak. Steen is versatile, capable of playing left wing or center. He kills penalties. He plays 20 minutes a night. He's a good possession player. He's one of the more underrated players of the last few years, really. Over the past three seasons, he ranks 25th in the NHL in points per game at 0.852, ahead of Matt Duchene, Jakub Voracek, Phil Kessel, Max Pacioretty and Jonathan Toews, to list just a handful of big names. Steen is 23rd in goals per game at 0.354.
Retaining him is a nice morale booster for St. Louis' fan base, too, since captain David Backes left for Boston as a free agent after he and the Blues couldn't agree on the length of his contract. Steen is one of the team's leaders and the second-oldest forward on the roster after Scottie Upshall. Even if this team now belongs to the young crop, including Vladimir Tarasenko, Robby Fabbri, Colton Parayko and Jake Allen, it's nice to have a wily 200-foot player like Steen on board to rally the troops.
There's no denying what Steen brings when he's on the ice. But does that justify the financial commitment St. Louis just made? It's debatable. Steen scores at a top-25 rate over the past three years, yes, but he also averages just 69.7 games over that span. He has missed at least 14 games four different times over his 11 seasons. He's sustained multiple concussions in his career. He dislocated his shoulder this past February and returned after 15 games, but the shoulder required off-season surgery. The June procedure put Steen on a four-to-six-month timeline, knocking him out of the World Cup.
Steen is a tough son of a gun, having played through the injury during the 2016 playoffs, and he's hoping to return to the Blues lineup in October. But that doesn't change the fact Steen is (a) quite injury prone at this stage of his career; (b) 32 years old; and (c) proud owner of a shiny new contract that commences in 2017-18 and pays him until he's 37.
Steen is an easy player to like. The contract is tough to like. At the same time, GM Doug Armstrong's hands may have been tied. Waiting all season could've created distraction and friction if Steen was set to hit the open market in 2017. It's not like he's 35 now, so asking for a multi-year pact wasn't unrealistic. Steen is almost guaranteed to decline steadily over the course of his extension, but the Blues did what they had to do to keep him. It was lose an important player or give him a slightly longer contract than they probably wanted to.
Author: Vaughn Ridley/World Cup of Hockey via Getty Images)
Willingness to stick to the plan powers Canada to World Cup final
By: Ryan Kennedy
Sep 24, 2016
Canada got a scare from the Russians and trailed for the second time in the entire tournament, but Brad Marchand’s pair of goals helped put Canada ahead for good.
It was looking a little dicey for Canada for awhile. Even though the master plan was in full effect – control the play and bombard Russia with shots – netminder Sergei Bobrovsky was playing Superman in the other crease. But good things tend to happen when Canada follows the plan and eventually Bobrovsky could hold the fort no longer. In the end, Canada got the 5-3 score that reflected the imbalance on the ice and now the Canucks move on to the World Cup final.
It's actually quite incredible that Russia led the game 2-1 at one point in the second. After Sidney Crosby opened the scoring with a tremendous strip and deke in the first, Russia repaid Bobrovsky for his heroics in the second. A bad Jay Bouwmeester pinch led to a 2-on-1 and a Nikita Kucherov snipe, which was followed by Evgeny Kuznetsov cashing in on a nice charge by Ivan Telegin.
But Crosby came to Canada's rescue again, hawking another puck in the offensive zone and slinging it to a wide-open Brad Marchand, who made no mistake at the side of the net.
The dam finally broke in the third, with Marchand slipping a wrister past Bobrovsky, followed by strikes by Corey Perry and John Tavares. Canada outshot Russia brutally throughout the contest and the possession numbers were similarly one-sided, as one would presume. Despite Bobrovsky's all-world play (a quick recap: he stoned Tavares on two point-blank shots, outwaited Steven Stamkos on a goal-mouth sojourn and stopped a streaking Marchand tip, among many other feats), Canada got the result it deserved.
Alex Ovechkin was practically invisible thanks to Shea Weber and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Canada's excellent defensive forwards made up for some shaky play by blueliners Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo.
So now the Red and White Killing Machine moves on, to face either Sweden or Europe. Canada got a nice challenge from Russia, at least for part of the game, and now the gold is in sight. If everybody sticks to the plan, as per usual, Canada will be very hard to beat once in the final, let alone twice.