When last we left Dalton Prout, the Columbus Blue Jackets rookie defenseman had jumped out of a cab into his first NHL game of the season. You may remember the story. It was March 1st, and Prout had received word he’d been recalled by the Blue Jackets, who were about to play in Chicago against the hottest team in the league.
After his inbound plane went to the wrong gate at the airport in Hartford, CT, the trip became part panic, part anticipation for Prout. Once he finally arrived in Chicago, he had to cajole his way to the front of the taxi line, but the angst didn’t stop there. When the taxi pulled up to the United Center, the player entrance was blocked by two large SUV’s. While Prout was trying to convince security he really was a player late for the game, Todd Richards called him. The head coach of the Blue Jackets told the young d-man to get into the arena and forget paying for the cab or dragging his equipment with him; they were both being handled by the team.
Before the end of the first period, Prout finally joined the team for that game in Chicago, playing nearly nine very composed minutes in an overtime loss.
So, how has the plot turned since that eventful travel day for the native of Ontario? It’s turned into one of the most compelling stories in the NHL, actually. In the 16 games following his 2013 debut in Chicago, Prout’s time on ice has more than doubled, to just over 18 minutes a game. He’s been an even- or plus- player in 16 of his 17 games played this season, including a +4 in Calgary on March 29th that set an all-time record for Blue Jackets rookies.
Most importantly, in his 17 games with the team, Columbus has gone 11-2-4 with Dalton Prout patrolling the back line. Certainly, a ton of that credit goes to the goaltending work of Sergei Bobrovsky and the team’s collective effort in general. But make no mistake: Prout has had a major impact on the Blue Jackets since he arrived under such harried circumstances. And he’s still trying to catch his breath.
“It’s been a whirlwind the whole time,” he admitted. “I haven’t been able to catch my breath, but I finally feel a little bit settled in. Obviously, day by day, you feel a little bit more like part of the team, and the best part is the team has had success, so it’s been nice to be a part of.”
With a blend of toughness, hockey sense, strong skating, and a real commitment in his own zone, the former 6th-round pick of the Blue Jackets in the 2008 draft has quickly earned the trust of the Columbus coaching staff. He plays heavy, critical minutes for the team and has done that since his first few games. Was he surprised to be getting those types of minutes so early in his second stint in the NHL?
“Yeah, the first time I was in that situation it was a little bit surprising, but you have to take it in stride at the same time and realize it’s still hockey, and I still have to do my job,” he said. “So the execution is the same as it is in the beginning of the game. Every point of the game is important when I’m out there.”
When asked the best way to earn a coach’s trust, Prout said it goes beyond performance on the ice.
“I think there’s no one answer, one defining moment that you can gain a coach’s trust. I think it’s developed over time through many things, such as your play on the ice, your communication off the ice, having the same perspectives on the game, being able to manage the game at certain points. In crucial situations, you want to have the same mindset as the coach, so he knows what he’s going to get out of you when puts you out there.”
One of the reasons Prout has had such a positive impact in his second go-round with the Blue Jackets is because he has managed expectations for this call-up. He’s keeping everything simple.
“You know, honestly, one of the things I learned was to come up here without expectations and just kind of go about your business as a hockey player. Do the things you think you need to do to be successful, little things from preparing yourself to keeping the same game that got you here. So, no expectations, but hard work.”
Between the success he enjoyed with Springfield earlier this season and the playoff race he’s involved in now, it’s been a rewarding season for the 23-year-old Prout.
“It’s really fun. I’ve been on both ends; I’ve been on a rebuilding junior team and a junior team that was ranked number one in the country,” he said. “When you’ve been on a rebuilding team you can appreciate winning that much more. And the mood is just better. Everything comes just a little bit easier. We’ve had some puck luck; we’ve had big goals at critical times and great efforts. It seems every night someone different steps up.”At this moment, chapter three of the Dalton Prout 2013 story is being written, by him and his teammates. If this group crosses the playoff line by the end of the season, this story could well be a bestseller.