While Henrik Lundqvist is the New York Rangers most important player, Brandon Prust might very well be the Blueshirts most valuable player.

I know that kind of logic might be hard to fathom, but there is a method to my madness. Quite obviously, the Rangers playoff chances rest squarely on the shoulders of The King – especially with Martin Biron injured.

In a talent comparison, well, there really is no comparison. Lundqvist is an All-Star and a world-class goaltender while Prust is a third line forward. However, Prust’s intangibles point to him being the heart and soul of the Rangers.

On a team that Larry Brooks of the NY Post has referred to as the “Black-and-Blueshirts”, no one personifies that term more than Prust.

No player gives more of themselves on the ice than Prust. While the coaching staff gives Lundqvist “maintenance” days off from practice because of his heavy workload, they have been giving Prust the same kind of maintenance days off just to make sure he is in the lineup.

There is no arguing the fact that Prust gives it his all each and every shift, and pretty much leaves everything he has on the ice. To paraphrase those wise hockey sages the Hanson Brothers, Prust is “a warrior, he is an animal, but he has to be a mess because of all of the injuries. “

One can envision Prust having to be lowered into a tube of ice in order to minister to his various aches and pains he has accumulated during the season. I know you can pretty much say that about any player at this point in the season, but it just seems that Prust has been a walking MASH unit.

A quick search of Prust via Rotoworld lists the following injuries he has battled through this season: he took a high stick to the face in October and has proceeded to suffer a charley horse, ankle injury, shoulder and thumb injuries – and those are just the ones that reporters have been able to confirm.

If Prust were an NFL player, he would be listed as “Questionable due to general body soreness.”

The injuries are a byproduct of way Prust plays the game. While the Rangers list him as 6-foot-2, he is closer to the 5-foot-11 that The Hockey News lists him. Despite giving away height and weight, Prust has not backed down from any challenge from any NHL heavyweight – an important asset that was made even more necessary with Derek Boogaard out of the lineup.

Despite the assortment of injuries and bumps and bruises, Prust is one of four Rangers to have played all 71 games up to this point (Artem Anisimov, Brian Boyle and Derek Stepan are the others). The London, Ontario native has set career highs in goals (11), assists (14) and points (25). Five of his 11 goals have been shorthanded – which ties him for the NHL lead with Frans Nielsen of the Islanders – and his seven shorthanded points are also an NHL best.

Prust, along with Boyle and Ruslan Fedotenko form the closest thing the Rangers have to an old-time checking line and have come together as the Bulldog Line 3.0 as their play matched the tenacious play of Dave Balon (and Later Steve Vickers), Walt Tkaczuk and Bill Fairbairn.

There was a time when fans considered Sean Avery to be the “heart and soul” of the Rangers – especially during his first stint on Broadway. However, some of those fans are left to shake their heads at some of Avery’s antics – with last night’s boneheaded penalty in the third period serving as Exhibit Number One. Most fans could empathize with Coach John Tortorella’s reaction on the bench.

The ironic thing is that Avery and Prust are the same type of “high-energy” player teams need. While Avery is a better skater and has more offensive ability, Prust is a better defensive player and might be closer to being an enforcer than Avery is.

The main difference is the actually the thing that makes Sean Avery the player that he is. For Avery to be successful as a nudge/antagonist is that he has to skate a very fine line without crossing it. The problem comes when Avery does cross the line. Rather than stepping a skate or two over that line, Avery takes a running broad jump over it and that leads to all of his problems.

For 55 minutes against the Islanders Avery managed to straddle that line. Unfortunately, NHL games are 60 minutes and Avery broad jumped over the line with his penalty late in the third period that lead to the Isles final goal.

With the Rangers beginning their voting push for selecting the recipient of the Steven McDonald Extra Effort Award, it might be safe to say that Ryan Callahan’s biggest hurdle in “three-peating” will be Brandon Prust.

In bringing up Callahan, Ranger fans have speculated that Callahan is the Rangers “captain-in-waiting” and could receive the “C” as early as next season if Chris Drury retires or is bought out. I would have absolutely no problem is seeing Prust rewarded by joining Marc Staal as the Rangers alternate captain.

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