Brandon Prust was the most controversial acquisition the Montreal Canadiens made this summer. Signing a grinder for 4 years is always a gamble, but it's more understandable if it's for a reasonable salary for a player who can play top 6 minutes in a pinch like Travis Moen, but Brandon Prust, to our knowledge, can not perform in that way.
So paying him more than Moen for the same term seems doubly confusing, as it seems like Marc Bergevin paid him more for the time he'll spend in the box for 5 minute majors than for his actual hockey skills. Not that Prust is a horrible player, because he isn't. He brings some value to a 4th line and can play both wings.
Prust is also coming off his first two injury free seasons, and established himself as a regular roster player for the New York Rangers.
Prust plays an extremely rugged style which could come in handy provided the Canadiens make the playoffs, and after struggling through last season due to a lack of depth, having him and Armstrong in the bottom 6 should not hurt the team in anyway outside of the cap (which I promise I'll shut up about now). Prust has fought an astonishing 178 times in the last 7 years, which should give you an idea of the kind of player he is.
But he's not just a goon. Prust is also an effective checker and a solid penalty killer. The addition of Prust and Colby Armstrong on the PK may push Brian Gionta off the rotation there, which could be a very positive impact indeed. But how is he at even strength?
As far as we can tell currently, Prust is slated to play left or right wing on the 4th line for the Habs, which means the players he's pushing down the depth chart are Aaron Palushaj and Blake Geoffrion, so as we did with Armstrong yesterday, we'll compare him to those two players. For explanations of the stats used, please refer to the glossary of analytical terms. All statistics used are even strength only and are courtesy of Behind the Net and Time on Ice.
|Brandon Prust||Name||Aaron Palushaj||Blake Geoffrion|
|33.7||Off Zone Start%||48.5||40.8|
|43.7||Off Zone Finish%||51.2||46.5|
|0.153||Rel Corsi QoC||-0.241||-0.157|
|-0.672||Rel Corsi QoT||-0.732||-1.809|
|494||Shot % [close]||494||436|
|479||Fenwick % [close]||500||419|
|471||Corsi % [close]||550||457|
The two most notable gaps here are that Prust faced much tougher competition than Palushaj and Geoffrion by a lot, in a tougher situation when factoring in zone starts, however Palushaj crushed that weak competition in possession while Prust and Geoffrion struggled mightily. Palushaj is a penalty drawing machine, and Prust is no slouch there either, while Geoffrion is fairly undisciplined and can't draw enough penalties to counteract it. None of the players had much support from their teammates, with abysmal linemates across the board, however Geoffrion's linemates ended up being the worst. While Prust put up the biggest offensive numbers, Palushaj's possession numbers and his low on-ice shooting% suggest that he's the best offensive talent of the bunch.
So Prust can ably play tougher minutes than the average 4th liner and not be totally embarrassed, but at 28 how is his career trending? Again we'll look at his career, in Prust's case his entire career, and see how it looks. The following chart uses 10 game rolling averages for overall Fenwick percentage as well as offensive zone start percentage. By doing this we can see both Prust's role and his performance. Gaps in the chart are due to games Prust did not play.
Click to enlarge
This is closer to the kind of graph you want to see when signing a player. Prust has taken dramatically tougher situations over the last 4 years and while his performance has declined, it's declined at a rate that isn't as dramatic as the rate by which his role has become more difficult. It's quite possible that Bergevin has signed Prust for the peak of his career, however the fact that his performance has gotten worse makes the 4 year deal quite the risk. A 2 year deal at the salary offered likely would have been enough to win the bid for Prust, although this is purely speculation.