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.”
Lightning in ‘constant contact’ with Kucherov’s representatives as training camp nears
By: Jared Clinton
Sep 23, 2016
Steve Yzerman doesn’t see Kucherov’s contract situation becoming a distraction as the season draws closer, and the Lightning GM is hoping the two sides come to terms by the time Kucherov is set to lace up after World Cup action.
Training camp for the Tampa Bay Lightning is about to get underway, but there’s uncertainty about whether or not the pre-season skates will include Nikita Kucherov, a restricted free agent who remains without a contract with less than three weeks remaining until the start of the season.
Asked Thursday about the status of Kucherov’s contract, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman sounded hopeful about the state of contract talks. According to NHL.com, Yzerman said the Lightning and Kucherov’s camp remain in “constant contact,” and the hope is that a contract will be in the offing.
"Obviously we want him here," Yzerman said, according to NHL.com. "He's a tremendous player, he's a popular player on the team. Being young he is still one of the leaders on our team so we want to get him in here as soon as possible. It takes time. Does it become a distraction? I don't anticipate that. Again our goal is to have him signed and in here as soon as possible.”
The goal, Yzerman said, is to have Kucherov inked by the time he’s done at the World Cup with Team Russia. Though it’s unlikely Kucherov signs on the dotted line before Saturday’s semi-final game — the 23-year-old almost certainly has his focus solely on the matchup against Canada — there will be time post-tournament when Kucherov could be inked by the Lightning and then join the team in camp ahead of the start of the pre-season.
The most difficult thing for the Lightning, and what has likely remained the sticking point throughout contract talks, is the money for Kucherov. He gets the minutes, the role and the opportunity to be a star in Tampa Bay, but he no doubt wants to be paid as such, and rightfully so.
Over the past two seasons, Kucherov has 59 goals and 131 points in 159 games, and only Steven Stamkos, with 79 goals and 136 points, has found the score sheet more often over the same span. Stamkos inked an eight-year, $68-million deal in June to remain with the Lightning, and Kucherov could be looking to earn similar money to the $8.5 million Stamkos earns annually.
However, the Lightning probably don’t see Kucherov’s salary climbing much higher than that of Vladimir Tarasenko, who signed an eight-year, $60-million deal — $7.5 million annually — in July 2015 to remain with the St. Louis Blues. Tarasenko has scored 77 goals and 147 points over the past two seasons, and before signing his deal has posted 58 goals and 116 points in 141 games, which is a near-identical points per game pace as Kucherov.
The issue for the Lightning right now is that, according to CapFriendly, they have only $6.27 million in available salary cap space, and their cap issues go beyond this coming season. Come next off-season, the Lightning will be staring down big money extensions for RFAs Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Jonathan Drouin. That’s an issue because Tampa Bay currently has less than $18 million in salary cap space to work with come next off-season, and the cap space will be significantly lessened once Kucherov is locked up.
Signing Kucherov is crucial for Yzerman and the Lightning, though, and they appear willing to continue to work hard to get a deal done that gets the goal-scoring winger back in the lineup this coming campaign.
Panthers GM Rowe ‘not overly concerned’ about Ekblad’s World Cup injury
By: Jared Clinton
Sep 23, 2016
Being forced out of the World Cup may have been cause for concern about Aaron Ekblad’s health, but the Florida Panthers sound confident he’ll be ready to start the season.
Aaron Ekblad’s time at the World Cup was cut short due to an injury sustained during North America’s round robin tilt against Finland, and even after the 20-year-old blueliner failed to participate in the first skate at Panthers training camp, the team doesn’t seem too worried.
After the first practice, Panthers president of hockey operation Dale Tallon was asked for an update on Ekblad and said that he was sure the young defenseman would be fine, while GM Tom Rowe said it was nothing more than a bit of “bad luck.”
"Not overly concerned about it," Rowe said Tuesday, according to NHL.com’s Alain Poupart. "A little bad luck. I think he's still probably getting used to (NHL) a little bit. He probably needs to be a little more aware in certain situations, but I don't think we're overly concerned about it.”
Ekblad suffered the injury when he was hit behind the net by Finland’s Leo Komarov during the tournament-opening game for the North American squad, but he remained in the contest and it wasn’t until before North America’s second contest that any injury was suspected. Ekblad didn’t suit up for North America’s game against Russia, and he was flown back to Florida to meet with team doctors as a precaution, Rowe said.
"There's doctors [in Toronto],” Rowe said. “But we'd rather him come back here and see our docs.”
There were conflicting reports about Ekblad’s injury when he was ruled out of action, with some saying he had suffered a concussion and other reports speculating that it was merely a neck injury. However, on Tuesday, Sportsnet’s Mark Spector reported that it was a “neck injury” and “nothing major.”
It would have been frightening to think of Ekblad’s status had he suffered another concussion, though. This past season, Ekblad was forced to miss four games with a concussion and he had previously been knocked out of Team Canada’s World Junior Championship training camp in August 2014 with a concussion, so another blow to the head could have marked the third time he was on the shelf with a concussion in the past two years.
With Ekblad arguably becoming the No. 1 defenseman in Florida just two seasons into his career, though, Florida wanted to protect their player by bringing him home. He signed an eight-year, $60-million extension with the Panthers during the off-season, and he’ll be a major part of any successes the franchise has this coming season.
Corey Perry has rare chance to join Niedermayer in hockey history
By: Ken Campbell
Sep 23, 2016
Winning seems to follow Corey Perry around and if Canada can take home the World Cup championship, he'll join a very exclusive group.
In case you’re wondering, Corey Perry keeps all his championship rings and gold medals locked in a safety deposit box. It must be a really, really big one. “I don’t travel with them,” Perry deadpanned as Team Canada prepared for its semifinal game against Russia in the World Cup of Hockey. “I don’t know what I’m going to do with them. We’ll figure something out when I’m done playing.”
Perry has not only a chance to add another bauble to his collection, but he also has an opportunity to join a miniscule group of players when it comes to winning championships. Miniscule, as in one. In all of the history of the game, only Scott Niedermayer has won a Stanley Cup, Olympic gold medal, World Championship, World Junior Championship, Memorial Cup and Canada/World Cup title. Perry can join him if Team Canada can win three more games in the tournament. Perhaps he and Niedermayer, a former teammate with the Anaheim Ducks and a special assignment coach with the Ducks, can compare their hardware when he returns to Anaheim.
Like Niedermayer, winning follows Perry around. And like Niedermayer, Perry has been a huge part of the championship teams on which he’s played. When asked if there are any similarities between the two, Perry’s Anaheim teammate Ryan Getzlaf cracked, “Yeah, they skate the same.”
He was joking. Niedermayer is one of the smoothest, most effortless and efficient skaters the game has ever seen. Perry, on the other hand, skates as though he’s on a personal mission to do as much damage to the ice as possible. But the results are undeniable. It all started for Perry in 2005 when he barely made Canada’s WJC team during the NHL lockout and scored seven points to help Canada win the title. Later that season, after scoring 130 points for the London Knights, he added another 38 in 18 playoff games to lead the Knights to the Memorial Cup. Two years later he contributed to the only Stanley Cup he has won in his career. He then won gold medals with Canada both in Vancouver in 2010 and in Sochi in 2014 before becoming the 27th member of the Triple Gold Club (Stanley Cup, Olympic gold and World Championship) when Canada won the world title last spring.
Perry is well aware that he’s on the cusp of history. Not surprisingly, he hasn’t given it a lot of thought. “Obviously, I’ve heard about it and I kind of know what’s at stake,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s just a matter of going out and playing hockey. I don’t worry about it. You don’t know if it could ever happen again, but I just go out and let the chips fall. It would be a tremendous honor for sure and it speaks volumes of the teams that I played for and guys I played with.”
It also speaks volumes of his contribution to those teams. Playing on what is essentially the third line on the left side of Jonathan Toews and Logan Couture, Perry has a goal in the tournament, mostly because he hasn’t been getting many looks. He has just six shots in the tournament, while Toews has 10 and leads Canada in scoring with three goals and an assist. The best thing about this for Perry is that he was not initially part of the group that was named to play in the World Cup and was added to the team when Jeff Carter had to pull out with an injury. But Hockey Canada knows what Perry is all about and appreciates how he has always answered the call for his country, so it was a pretty easy decision for both sides.
“The times I went (to the World Championship in 2010, 2012 and 2016), the season kind of ended abruptly and I wasn’t planning on sitting back and relaxing for another month or so,” Perry said. “It’s a great time and anytime you get a call, if you can go, I go and I want to be a part of that team.”
What Perry is on the cusp of accomplishing is something rather special. Sidney Crosby, who has won everything but a Memorial Cup, lost to Perry’s Knights in the final in 2005. Wayne Gretzky hasn’t done it. Nor has Mario Lemieux, nor Team Canada teammates Toews or Patrice Bergeron. They've all come close, but none of them has a safety deposit box with quite as much variety as Perry.
“It’s important to have winners, period,” said Team Canada coach Mike Babcock. “If you look at our group, we have a lot of determined people that have been in a lot of good situations and have learned how to win and expect to win. And in the big moments in your life, the best of the best deliver and they think they’re going to deliver. They don’t know why, but in their heart and in their mind they know they’re going to do it.”