Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/USA TODAY SPORTS
More news? More news! The Toronto Maple Leafs will be giving looks to two additional players this preseason, extending Professional Tryouts to both Brandon Prust and Raman Hrabarenka today.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 22, 2016
I know what you’re thinking, and it’s that neither of these players are particularly outstanding. Prust developed a reputation in his mid-20s as an enforcer who could play a regular shift, peaking with a 13-goal, 29 point season with the Rangers in 2011. But the 32-year-old’s best days appear to be behind him, as he picked up just 7 points in 35 appearances with the Vancouver Canucks and, for the sixth consecutive season, his team had better possession numbers without him on the ice than when he was on. The Canucks eventually waived him and placed him on the Utica Comets, where he played nine games before being shut down with an ankle injury.
Certainly, if Prust is pushed to the side in favour of younger players on a team like Vancouver, who refuse to believe they need to rebuild, his odds of winning a fight for a roster spot are slim (unless they involve a literal fight).
As for Hrabarenka, he’s about as “who?” of a player as you’ll ever find. The 23-year-old Belarussian was signed by the Albany Devils in 2012 after going undrafted and signed to an ELC in July of 2013. Since joining the Devils organization, the 6’4 defenceman has picked up 62 points in 176 AHL games. He was a part of last year’s Albany roster but didn’t play in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
Certainly, if Hrabarenka wasn’t good enough to play on the roster that spent their seven games against the Marlies mostly throwing dirty hits, and he wasn’t good enough to get a qualifying offer, his odds of winning a fight for a roster spot are slim, too, right? I don’t think either of these moves are about gaining players for the NHL roster, however.
Prust was known to be unhappy with the trade that sent him to the Canucks, because it distanced him from his fiancee in Montreal. It goes without saying that his hope would be to continue to chase his hockey dream from a closer-to-home venue. The Leafs might not be the right fit for him, but they’re an ideal place for him to have his re-audition to general managers across the league as the result of that distance.
In return, the Leafs get a player on a short-term basis who knows the rigors of the league as an enforcer and as a general depth forward. Mentorship has been a drum banged by the brass throughout this process, and training camp is when you’ll have most of your prospects around looking for a role model to latch onto. If Prust can’t find a job, there might be the option of the Marlies as well; he scored 7 points in his 9-game stint with Utica, so the skill level is presumably still there, and with most travel bus-distance away, it might be a situation that works for him.
As for Hrabarenka, he’s a right-handed shot. The Leafs have plenty of now those now in Nikita Zaitsev, Frank Corrado, Connor Carrick, and Roman Polak. But at the AHL level, they presently only have Justin Holl. Hrabarenka might be a second right-handed shot to integrate into the lineup, or he might just be a player that Lou Lamoriello once signed and wants to give one more showcase to before he decides to head back to Europe.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that the Leafs will have six players playing at the World Cup of Hockey at the start of training camp, so with Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, Milan Michalek, James van Riemsdyk, Nikita Zaitsev, and Frederik Andersen all likely to miss the first few days, there’s no harm in having some extra warm bodies.
Perhaps the tone might change if either of these two make the cut over a legitimately good NHL player, but as it stands right now, there’s not a ton to worry about with either move.