Dalton Prout playing with renewed confidence since return from Springfield

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prouf (47) and Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mason Raymond (12) battle for position during the first period at the Air Canada Centre.

John E. Sokolowski/John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Sophomore slump? Yeah, Dalton Prout has been there and back. At least he’s back in Columbus, and he’s showing signs that his game is returning, as well.

The young defenseman from LaSalle, Ontario, who literally stepped out of a cab in Chicago last season and became an integral part of the Blue Jackets team that made such a memorable second-half push, knows as well as anyone that nothing is guaranteed at the NHL level.

After undergoing abdominal surgery in August, Prout never really got his game going early this season. A couple of additional injuries compounded the slow start, and — even after healing from those – the 23-year-old found himself a healthy scratch on a number of occasions. Then just before the Olympic break, Prout was reassigned to the team’s AHL affiliate in Springfield. He took it as just another challenge.

"Adversity gives you an opportunity," he said. "It gives you an opportunity on how you’re going to come out of it, and I know I’m going to come out of it a better player for it. It’s better to go through this now than later.

"I’m still young and learning a lot," Prout continued. "So I feel like this time right now and helping this team win will pay dividends for my career down the road. Certainly what happened at the beginning of the season was a bumpy road, but it’s all for the good big picture."

He’s right about the dividends. Even in the loss to New Jersey last week, Prout was very solid. After that 5-2 beatdown, Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards said, "Dalton’s game was fine. I had no issues with him. I thought he played big, strong, and when he got the puck on his stick, he did a decent job moving it."

He moved the puck really well on a second-period blast from the right side in Toronto Monday in the team’s 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs. Prout broke a 0-0 tie, and the Columbus bench erupted. His coach says the goal was a kind of exclamation point on the overall improved play of his young defenseman since rejoining the Blue Jackets.

"He’s playing the way that he needs to," said Richards. "He’s a big, strong kid (6’3, 219), and he needs to play with a bit of an edge, and he’s been doing that. And obviously it was great seeing him score the goal. Just the reaction of the guys, that tells a lot, how the guys react when something happens to a player. It’s easy to see that Dalton’s a likeable guy in the room."

Being well-liked by his teammates is a good thing, but it won’t keep Prout in the lineup, even with injuries on the back end these days for Columbus. He knows he’s going to have to play a simple, smart game with some snarl to it. And he believes the experience from last year’s stretch run will serve him well in the pressure-packed games ahead.

"Yeah, you don’t even realize how much you learn until you’re about to go through it a second time," Prout explained. "I feel like there’s a different way you have to manage practices and take care of your body, and you have to sacrifice that much more during the games to get those points, because they’re that much harder to get down the stretch."

Call these upcoming weeks Dalton Prout’s second chance to make a first impression, an opportunity to make this sophomore slump thing a distant memory. On a defensive corps that isn’t overflowing with big, physical, shutdown guys, he plays the style of game — when he’s playing it effectively – that can help the Blue Jackets get where they want to be by April 12.

What a dividend that would be.