Brandon Prust of the London Knights is a classic example of a late bloomer. The versatile power forward was never drafted by an OHL team and made the Knights as a walk-on in 2002 after playing Junior B for the London Nationals. He put together a solid enough rookie season for the Knights as an 18-year-old contributing lots of energy, body checks, and 29 points in 65 games. For two years, Prust was bypassed at the NHL draft.
Then came the 2003-04 season. Prust had a fantastic year on the first place Knights, scoring 19 goals and adding 33 assists for 52 points in 64 games. He had a whopping 269 penalty minutes and fought a good deal after the Knights traded their enforcer Chris Bain as part of the Rob Schremp trade early in the season. Despite being 5’11 and 200 pounds, Prust held his own and then some against the toughest fighters in the league, most of who had a size advantage over him. Prust, when not in the box, was an important part of the league’s best penalty-killing unit and led the league in short-handed goals.
In the OHL Western Conference Coach’s Poll, Prust was ranked second best in the Hardest Worker and the Best Bodychecker category. Prust followed up his breakthrough regular season with a strong playoffs and his hard work night in and night out was noticed. He was drafted by the Calgary Flames in the 2004 NHL Draft in the third round. It is quite rare for a 19-year-old player to go so high in the draft.
Prust attended the Calgary Flames rookie camp, but when the NHL imposed their lockout, Prust was sent back to London to play in his overage year for a team that is going to host the 2005 Memorial Cup. Prust was named one of the assistant captains on the team. He suffered a rib injury and after he returned from that injury, he broke his jaw. These injuries have hurt his numbers (30 points in 45 games), but Prust will be counted on to be a force in the playoffs as the Knights attempt to cap their record-setting season with an OHL championship and a Memorial Cup win.
Hockey’s Future caught up with Prust after a 3-2 victory over the Owen Sound Attack in the final regular season game at home for the Knights.
HF: Talk about the game tonight, it was the two best teams in the OHL and the game was pretty even.
BP: Yeah, they are a good team, they play well and they play hard, they have a lot of offensive firepower out there. They battled hard and that was playoff atmosphere out there tonight and we have to be ready for that.
HF: You are going to play the Guelph Storm in the first round of the playoffs, a team that has played you as tough as anyone this year. They beat you once, tied you once, lost in overtime and a couple of one goal losses, plus you have a few ex-teammates on that team; how do you match up with them?
BP: Yeah, they work hard as a team and we have to be ready for them. We can’t take them lightly; any team in this league can come out and beat you on a given day. We just have to be ready and make sure that we work harder than every other team out there. They have a couple of our old players out there, they have our old goalie (Ryan MacDonald), he is a great goalie, so we have to make sure we get on him.
HF: Who has the advantage, the shooters or him, since you know each other’s tendencies?
BP: It is tough it goes both ways. He can maybe guess where he thinks a guy tends to shoot and be ready for it, and some guys know where he is weak and will be looking to shoot there, so it can go both ways.
HF: You have had a couple of injuries this year that have caused you to miss around 20 games. Tell me about your ribs and jaw and how they are feeling now.
BP: I got back from Calgary and a couple of games into the season I had a rib injury. I missed about seven games or so. I came back and I thought I was starting to get into a groove and ending up breaking my jaw and that put me out about a month and half or so. It is a little bit of a setback, but I look at it as a little bit of a rest for the playoffs, I’m all ready to go now. I had a chance to rest and work out and get my body all toned up for the playoffs.
HF: Comparing your game from last year to this year you seem to be a bit faster out there. Is skating something you worked hard at over the summer?
BP: I have a personal trainer and we do a lot of on ice stuff. Actually we did a lot of work on my skating and my stride, so I gained a few steps over the summer that is for sure. If I want to make it to the next level I have to keep getting faster each summer.
HF: Speaking of the next level, how did the rookie camp with Calgary go for you?
BP: It went good. Yeah I think they liked what they saw, I played well out there and got into a few tilts that they liked. I have to go earn my spot, just like I did on this team. Whatever got me here, I have to do out there, work hard and play with my heart.
HF: On your draft day, did you attend the draft?
BP: Yeah I did. We kind of expected to go on the second day, but I sort of had a feeling that I could go on the first day. No one else thought that, but I had a feeling and luckily enough for me, Calgary drafted me early in the third round. You know it’s an unbelievable feeling and I had my parents and my sister with me there, it was a very emotional day and a happy day.
HF: Tell me a bit about your summer routine and what you do to get in shape.
BP: Well like I said, I have a personal trainer, I work out with a couple of NHL guys, Jason Williams of Detroit, Krys Barch, Alex Henry of Minnesota. We get out early in the morning and do our bike rides or our sprints for a bit of cardio. Then we hit the gym and two or three days a week we hit the ice as well. It takes up a lot of your day, we start at eight in the morning and we usually work until sometime late in the afternoon. It’s a long day, but it is fun and a good workout.
HF: Your current coach is Dale Hunter and you may someday play for Darryl Sutter in Calgary, what is it like playing for two guys who were among the most intense guys to play the game when they were in the NHL?
BP: They are my style of hockey, I like to play the way Dale played, you know, heart on your sleeve, battle for your teammates, do whatever you have to do to get the team a win. That is what the Hunters are like, that is what the Sutters are like. I suit their style that is for sure.
HF: This year with your injuries, you obviously haven’t fought as much, but last year you had a fight with Cam Janssen that made people sit up and take notice that you were one of the heavyweights in the OHL. Is that the toughest fight you had?
BP: Yeah, I fought him twice, he wanted his rematch after the first one, and we had a good tilt that’s for sure. You know he is a tough boy and he is doing well in the AHL right now. I will battle for my boys at any time, it doesn’t matter who it is, I might get beat up, I might not, and I’ll take whatever happens. There are some tough guys out there but I like to go out and compete.
HF: Tonight you guys tied the game up on a penalty shot and the crowd was going crazy. What do you think about using the shootout to settle a tie game in regular season games?
BP: I don’t know, it’s nothing that we can really control. It’s tough to say, I guess after a five minute overtime if they want to have a winner that is fine if that is something that they want to do, it’s not really our decision.
HF: Playoffs in the OHL usually mean some team bonding with some hair dye jobs, are you guys off to the barber’s once you get back from your road trip this weekend?
BP: We don’t know what we are going to do yet, we are going to talk about it a bit more this weekend and see what we are going to do next week. There has been some talk, but nothing written in stone yet.
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