September 17 2009 09:04AM
The 2009 Flames training camp is rather short on drama beyond the short drama that is Theoren Fleury’s comeback attempt.
One interesting question though is the place scrappy winger Brandon Prust has on the club. First of all, let’s emphasize the point that to many Calgary fans, Prust has already performed an extremely valuable service for the 2009-10 Flames.
In reacquiring Prust from the Phoenix Coyotes this past summer, the Flames rid themselves of defenceman Jim Vandermeer, who was slated to make way too much loot over the next two seasons ($4.6 million US) for a fringe player. The fat-trimming was very necessary for a club that was struggling to get its budget in order.
There’s a suspicion that the Vandermeer-Prust swap was merely an extension of the deadline deal that sent Prust, Matthew Lombardi and a first-round pick to the Coyotes for Olli Jokinen but whatever the explanation for the deal, it was a godsend from the perspective of the Flames and their bottom line.
Prust’s encore in Calgary really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise given the mancrush Darryl Sutter obviously has for the fellow. In 2004, Sutter spent a third-round draft pick to select a 20-year-old Prust, an unusually large investment for a graduating junior.
Then, a year ago, the Flames awarded Prust a one-way contract (albeit a modest one with an average of $500,000 per season) even though the former London Knight had spent the entire previous season in the minors.
Which brings us back to this season and the function the Sutter Brothers might have in store for Prust. Some viewed the Flames’ summer acquisition of Brian McGrattan as a blow to Prust’s potential ice time, but not Prust himself. Instead, Prust believes the presence of a heavyweight will allow him to cut back on his own fighting on concentrate on being more of a disturber type.
That philosophy is understandable considering Prust is a middleweight at best when it comes to NHL fighting and the guy has a couple of broken jaws (one as a result of a fight; the other from a questionable Cam Janssen hit) in his medical history.
When it comes to dropping the gloves, Prust has a lot of Keith Magnuson in him (for you young’uns, the late Magnuson is a former Chicago Blackhawks defenceman who took on all comers but was always a good bet to absorb more punishment than he gave out). According to the highly unscientific hockeyfights.com, Prust has won only five of his 19 career NHL fights, although he’s also managed to wrestle a half-dozen opponents to a draw according to the virtual judges.
The way Prust half-jokingly tells it, if he and McGrattan are both on the ice when a teammate is in trouble (we’ll ignore for the moment the downside of a lineup that features that combination) they’ll both come to the rescue, but Prust will make sure to go a little slower than McGrattan.
Perhaps that’s still part of the plan but wouldn’t you know it? In the first period of his first 2009 exhibition game, Prust shucked the mitts and danced with Zack (Don’t Call Me Huggy Bear) Stortini.
Still, if Prust indeed cuts back on the fisticuffs, what function can he perform for the Flames? Well, it seems there’s a belief in Calgary’s camp that Prust can develop into the same kind of player Alexandre Burrows is for the Canucks — a pain-in-the-ass who can drive opponents to distraction and can also play the game. Prust may never come close to the 28 goals Burrows potted a season ago (even in junior, he never scored more than 19) but the Flames believe Prust has enough speed, skill and gumption to be useful in ways that don’t involve the bending of noses. For what it’s worth, Prust also famously drew the assignment of checking/pestering Sidney Crosby at the 2005 Memorial Cup.
Bottom line, no matter how crowded it currently seems at the bottom of the Flames forward ranks, it seems Prust will have a fairly prominent place on the roster.