Is Brandon Prust a difference maker for the Montreal Canadiens?

Over the last couple days, the value of Brandon Prust has become a topic for Habs fans, but is he as valuable as perceived?

Over the last couple of days, I've heard people on the radio suggesting that Brandon Prust is one of the three most important players on the Canadiens this season. I've read a couple of blogs saying that he's the most important player on the roster.

It's well known that when Prust was signed, I wasn't a fan of the contract. I'm very impressed with his play for the most part, but it's still difficult to justify spending $2.5M a year on him for 4 years. However it seems like a large portion of Habs fans (and media members) are bending over backwards to find value in Prust that isn't really there. Is it a subconscious attempt to pretend a poor deal is a good one? Is it sucking up to Marc Bergevin? I'm not sure, but Prust is very clearly a role player, not an impact one.

The main argument for Prust's perceived value beyond his play is his facilitating the transition of Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher into the NHL, but did he?

As far as performance goes, the answer is pretty clearly no.

With Galchenyuk, Prust has an even strength Corsi% of 50.3%. Without Galchenyuk, Prust falls to an abysmal 39.5%, while Galchenyuk jumps up to 53.3% when he's separated from Prust.

With Gallagher, Prust has an even strength Corsi% of 47.7%. Without Gallagher, Prust falls to 46.4%, while Gallagher jumps up to 61.5% when he's not playing with Prust.

Those statistics seem to indicate that both players perform better without Prust on their line. If anyone is to be credited with the smooth transition to NHL play from the rookies outside of themselves, I think it has to be Michel Therrien, who has sheltered them zonally every effectively. So without that intangible of making the rookies better, we have to look at Prust's play.

Here are Prust's rankings on the Canadiens using a variety of even strength statistics, and we'll ascribe to him a relative value (for an explanation of these stats, please refer to the glossary):

Statistic Forward Rank Overall Rank
Time on ice per 60 minutes 9 16
Corsi Relative quality of competition 8 12
Corsi quality of competition 10 15
Goals /60 minutes 9 10
First assists /60 minutes 6 6
Second assists /60 minutes T6th T12th
Points /60 minutes 8 8
Corsi Relative 12 19
Corsi on 13 20
On-ice shooting % 3 5
On-ice save % 3 5
PDO 3 4
Penalties taken /60 minutes* 12 19
Penalties drawn /60 minutes 12 13
Offensive zone start %** 11 18
Offensive zone finish % 3 4
Average Ranking 7.6 11.6

*Penalties taken /60 minutes is sorted so that the fewest penalties taken gets the higher ranking.
**Offensive zone starts are sorted by the highest percentage getting the top ranking, meaning the more a player is deployed in the offensive zone, the lower the ranking.

Prust's average rankings are skewed slightly by his good luck this season, but I'm not going to punish him for being in a good situation. In reality, ranking as about the 7th or 8th best forward in the lineup is a really impressive start to the season, but a large part of that ranking is great luck.

It would be a stretch to say that Prust has played poorly, but as the 3rd most sheltered forward on the Canadiens' roster he is the team's worst possession player. That is not a good sign.

Prust also has a penchant for putting the Canadiens in shorthanded situations, and he doesn't draw many calls to make up for it. The most annoying thing about Prust taking penalties though, is that he is actually an effective player to have on the ice to kill them. In fact, that's selling him short, he has been spectacular on the PK this season.

But the point here isn't to bash Prust, it's simply to show that he is what he is, a bottom 6 forward. This is not a guy you build a team around, he's not the heart and soul of the team, he's just a good role player who's a little bit overpaid for a little bit too long, who happens to be extremely likeable.

Stop with the hyperbole.

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