It’s been smooth sailing for Prout since bad travel day

Chapter Two

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.