Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Brandon Prust's style is igniting a flame underneath the Montreal Canadiens that just won't stop burning.
Sweat beads down his face like it's a race. His eyes seem wider than a seven-year-old's in a candy store. And neither the sweat nor eyes feel like slowing down anytime soon.
Such is the life of Brandon Prust, a player once passed over in his Ontario Hockey League draft year, a man who has gone on to become a crucial part of one of hockey's most storied franchises.
He won't be found going top shelf very often, and he won't be dishing out wicked saucers, but Prust's importance comes away from the puck. When he's on the ice, and the puck is in a corner, Prust will be battling for it just about every time.
Prust currently leads the National Hockey League in penalty minutes, but he is also near the top ten in plus/minus. And remember, these plus ratings don't come because he's getting on the scoresheet; they come because he ensures responsiblity in the defensive end.
His role has changed this season. No longer is Prust on the ice with hopes of finding a partner to dance with. Under head coach Michel Therrien's system, it doesn't have to be his primary purpose. Now, it's just something he does because he can.
"I wanted to be able to get the opportunity to play a lot of minutes and be a guy who would be looked for in big spots," Prust recently said of his new role. "It's good to go out there and not always have fighting be the first thing on my mind."
While he seemed pretty keen on dropping the gloves with Dion Phaneuf of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and has no problem doing so, Prust has toned things to down a bit this season for the greater good. Even with his new game, Prust still sits third in the league with six fighting majors to his name.
At 6'0'', 195 pounds, Prust isn't the biggest man out there, but he's certainly one of the toughest. His recent tilt with New York Islanders' blueliner Joe Finley serves as evidence. Finley is 6'7'' and tips the scales at 235 pounds, but Prust had no fear in taking him on after a hit from behind.
Then came the real proof of Prust's electric style: his scrap with Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic. From a first impression of the tilt, it appears Prust didn't do too well. But upon further thinking, it becomes clear that Prust didn't not only lose, but he actually did a great job. Lucic is a tank, and there's nothing Prust can do about that disadvantage. Being one of the toughest guys in the league is great, but it doesn't mean you win every fight. In this particular battle with Lucic, the outcome is irrelevant. That Prust was willing to take Lucic on, and that the scrap lasted as long as it did, showed Prust's true value.
"What Brandon Prust did for this hockey team, I'll call that great leadership," Therrien said shortly after the Boston game.
Prust's value is underrated by those who see the Habs only once in a while. But to many Canadiens supporters, Prust is the heart and soul of this team.