Prucha Looks to Earn Spot

The firing of New York Rangers coach Tom Renney on Monday signaled the end of an era for a team that had lost its stride since opening the season with a strong first half. With Renney gone, only three key pieces of the squad that emerged from the lockout remain.

Michal Rozsival has anchored the blueline for New York, and Henrik Lundqvist has earned his place as a top-ten NHL netminder. But Petr Prucha, 26, has done little since potting 30 goals during a rookie season spent in the shadow of players such as Michael Nylander, Martin Straka and Jaromir Jagr.

Since Prucha’s freshman year in the NHL, Rangers coach Tom Renney had decreased the forward’s time spent on the ice; especially on the man advantage. After appearing an average of nearly four minutes on the powerplay in 2006, Prucha has seen only an average of 34 seconds on the powerplay this year.

With a reduction like that, it’s no small wonder that Prucha’s production has fallen as well. But despite the limited ice time, the diminutive Czech has still managed to rack up 112 points for the Broadway Blueshirts in 234 games. Quite simply, the pint-sized Prucha, who is generouslylisted at 175 lbs., has demonstrated night in and night out what it means to be a Ranger in the new NHL, despite getting lost in the shuffle of the depth chart.

The fact that Prucha’s ice time diminished under Renney’s tutelage is somewhat ironic. Renney had been at the head of New York’s youth movement coming out of the lockout, and Prucha, with his combination of hustle and offensive ability, was an instant hit with the fans.

His February 18 tussle with the Islanders’ Sean Bergenheim – in what would ultimately be Renney’s final win with the Rangers – quelled any lingering doubts that Prucha can play with the big boys. Any frustrations over lack of playing time this year certainly were on display in the bout, and to top the evening off Prucha picked up an assist, earning the game’s 2nd star for his efforts.

With John Tortorella now at the helm, it remains to be seen how Prucha will fit into the Rangers’ plans. The fact that Tortorella has made it clear that he does not plan to roll four forward lines means the margin for error is that much smaller for a player like Prucha to earn the ice time he deserves.

Now that Prucha will be playing on a line with Lauri Korpikoski and Nigel Dawes, Tortorella has a unique combination of skill and hustle in a line that will be expected to make contributions if marquee players such as Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund fail to produce.

As New York gets ready for the John Tortorella era of Rangers hockey, Petr Prucha will have to keep playing with the same intensity that endeared him to fans if he hopes to become more than a footnote in Rangers history.

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