The impish grin was the same. The colors were the same. It was the logo on the T-shirt Brandon Prust wore yesterday afternoon that was different.
“I don’t know if I have too many bad memories of being here,” Prust told reporters outside of the visiting dressing room prior to the Canadiens-Rangers game at the Garden last night. The resumption of the Original Six rivalry marked Prust’s return to New York after spending two-and-a-half seasons with the Rangers.
“[I] made a lot of friends, love the city, great organization. It’s kind of a kick start to my hockey career. All good memories.”
Prust signed a four-year, $10 million deal with the Canadiens as an unrestricted free agent on July 1. The Montreal brain trust determined one of the primary issues with the Canadiens in 2011-12 was a decided lack of toughness.
The early returns have been good. The Canadiens entered last night’s game with a Northeast Division leading 10-4-1 record.
“It’s been a good start to the season. Enjoying my time, we have a great team, organization. It’s been a lot easier, we’re winning,” Prust said of the Canadiens’ courtship. They made some good changes in the offseason [and] you like to think you’re a piece of that puzzle, [that] you brought some good things to that dressing room and out on the ice. That’s what I try to do on the ice. It’s been a whole bunch of the things that have come together to bring us success.”
Players like Prust are valued by their teammates and coaches for the role they perform. However, they are often overlooked in free agency for their more skilled brethren. Prust hinted that the term and length of his deal was important.
“Sometimes, players like me are maybe overlooked. It was something I wanted to prove,” Prust said.
He also wanted to prove that he can do more than trade punches.
Prust has played in every game for the Canadiens this season. Skating on a line with third-overall pick Alex Galchenyuk and veteran Erik Cole, Prust has four points (two goals and two assists) and a plus-4 rating while averaging 12:28 of ice time.
“[I] wanted an opportunity to play a lot more,” said Prust, who averaged 11:56 last season with New York. “I wanted to maybe get that opportunity to play a lot of minutes and be a guy they look for a spark. It’s good to go out and you’re not always thinking about fighting. Sometimes I find I was doing a lot. It’s easier to play when that’s the second thing on your mind.”
Do not take that to mean Prust has eliminated fighting from his repertoire. He leads the NHL with 71 penalty minutes and his five fighting majors are tied for second most in the league.
“You know I’m always looking for it,” Prust deadpanned.
Follow Rangers beat writer Denis Gorman on Twitter @DenisGorman.