Brandon Prust joined Overdrive on TSN1050 this afternoon to discuss his Player Tryout Agreement with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
This is a very young hockey team that really could use some leadership. There are some leadership pieces there, but they could certainly use more of it. What kind of opportunity did you see when you decided to come on board and give it a shot?
Brandon Prust: That’s one of the first things that we looked at. There were a couple of similar options to Toronto, but I just feel like this is a good fit. I think they maybe need a little extra sandpaper and they’ve got some young guys. They maybe need some veteran leadership and someone that can maybe create some space out there for some of the younger guys and make sure that no one is taking liberties with them. And also, growing up not far from Toronto in London and growing up a Leafs fan, it’s always been a dream of mine to put on the Blue and White. Hopefully everything works out and I’ll be able to do that all year.
Being from the area, what is the perception of the organization now that Brendan Shanahan has taken over? Mike Babcock seems to be a selling point, and Lou Lamoriello. From the outside – you’ve been around the hockey world – what is thought about the Toronto Maple Leafs that was maybe different in previous regimes?
Prust: I think everybody kind of knows that they’ve started to rebuild. They have all the right pieces in place in their management and coaching staff. They’ve got some good young talent coming up. I think everybody’s aware that, in a few years — hopefully very soon — this team is going to be a team to be reckoned with. That’s something that I want to be a part of as well. When I went to Montreal four years ago, they finished last and they had some good young kids coming into the organization. I kind of went in there and did my thing and really helped the team out. Making the team kind of be a team. That’s something that I’m coming in here to do as well.
A PTO is not made to order. You have to go through a process in your mind. How difficult was it for you to reach this?
Prust: Obviously, you want a contract going into camp. My last eight years I’ve had a one-way contract going into camp. This is going to be a lot different. It kind of feels like when I was a walk on with the London Knights, or my first couple of years playing in the AHL and going to camps and trying to steal a job. I kind of feel like I’m 22 again and I’m trying to prove myself. I’m not just trying to prove I have what it takes; I’m trying to prove I still have what it takes and that my health is good and my ankle is good and my foot speed and everything is good. It’s a bit of a different mindset, but at the same time I’ve got to just go in and do what I do and just focus on that. Hopefully everything will turn out how it’s supposed to.
You come off an injury and it’s a situation where you are battling for a contract. You’ve seen the league progress. Everyone is talking about speed, and you have an ankle injury. Is that basically everything in your mind? That you just want to silence the doubters and say, “hey, I can still skate in the league. I can still produce and give the organization what is needed here.”
Prust: Yeah, that’s exactly it. I had a tough ending to the year and I’m not 26 anymore. It’s a lot different. I’ve got to prove [myself]. That’s what everyone is concerned about that I talk to – “How’s the foot speed? How’s the ankle?” You don’t heal maybe like you used to when you were younger. I’ve been working on that all summer. I’ve been working on my speed and making sure my ankle is back up to 100%. I’m feeling good. I’ve just got to come in and prove that, and just play with confidence and play my game.
You’ve seen a transition in the sport over the last 10-12 years since you came into the NHL vis-à-vis the tough guy. You were a guy who could skate. You remind me a lot of a guy like Shawn Thornton or even a Matt Martin, who is now with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Guys who are tough but can also play. What is your opinion of the way that the type of role that you have played over the years has changed?
Prust: When I first broke into the league, it was kind of like, “alright, who am I fighting tonight?” There were always a few guys over there, and you knew that was on somebody’s mind. And it was sometimes, “who am I picking a fight with tonight?” The last few years have kind of changed. It’s kind of more, “alright, play hockey, and if something happens you’ve got to jump in there and you’ve got to stick up and protect your teammates.” Which I think is the right way. I think it’s better for the game for sure. I think it’s still an important part of the game. You want to be able to keep guys in check and make sure that guys aren’t taking liberties on your top players or your young guys. I think it’s still important, but it’s definitely changed – the philosophy of the game. I still pick a fight and some people will go, “that fight was useless.” But really, in my mind, I know it’s not. I know my team has lost two games in a row or three games in a row, and I’m going to start the next game with a fight because I know that it is going to get my boys going. Some people that don’t know the game will look at the fight and say, “that was a stupid, pointless fight.” But, really, we just ended up turning a losing streak around. It’s definitely a big change, though, from the last 6-10 years, I would say.
Going back to what you said about foot speed… When you go back over the last ten years you played, foot speed is much more important now than it ever was, isn’t it?
Prust: Yeah. It’s such a faster game, especially since the rule changes. There is no more hooking and holding. Guys are freewheeling out there. That’s kind of why the game has changed. That’s why it is about speed now. We’ve got to adapt to the game. I’ve been playing in the league ever since the rule changes. I know I can still skate with them. I know I can still do a lot of good work. As you get older, you definitely have to work on it a little more. Every summer, you have to work harder and you have to buckle down a little more and focus on it more. That’s kind of what I’ve been doing.
Transcribed by Alec Brownscombe