Whatever Happened To: Petr Prucha

We’re now a half-decade removed from the 2004-05 NHL Lockout, which cost owners, players and fans an entire year of NHL hockey. Since then, the New York Rangers have been one of the more successful NHL clubs in the league, qualifying for the playoffs in five of the first six seasons after the lockout, albeit just two playoff series victories.

In that time, many prospects with plenty of upside have come and gone from the Rangers. This series will look back at the players who didn’t quite work out here in New York, and where they are now.

In the first installment of the “Whatever Happened To?” series, we’ll take a look at Petr Prucha, one of the more popular Rangers early on after the lockout.

Drafted by the Rangers in 2002 in the eighth-round (240th overall), Prucha bursted onto Broadway in 2005-06, scoring 30 goals as a rookie, including 16 on the powerplay, breaking Camielle Henry’s Ranger record for most powerplay goals by a rookie. Prucha finished his first campaign with the Rangers with 30 goals and 47 points in 68 games.

His second season, Prucha saw his production decline, albeit slightly, thanks in large part to Brendan Shanahan taking over most of the minutes on the powerplay. Prucha finished with 22 goals and 40 points in 79 games. His performance was good enough to get Prucha a two-year deal worth $3.2 million.

Prucha’s role with the Rangers continued to diminish the following two years on Broadway, as well as his production. Prucha managed just seven goals in 62 games in 2007-08, followed by just four goals and nine points in 28 games with the Rangers in 2008-09.

The Rangers had clearly lost faith in Prucha, and packaged him, along with Dmitri Kalinin and Nigel Dawes (another player who will be in this series), to Phoenix in exchange for Derek Morris in March 2009.

Prucha finished the 2008-09 season with the Coyotes strong, tallying two goals and 10 points in 19 games, but failed to find the scoring touch he had during his rookie season. In his first full season in Arizona, Prucha scored 13 goals and 22 points in 79 games. This past season, Prucha failed to score a goal and registered just one assist in 11 games with the Coyotes.

After being waived by the Coyotes and refusing to go to the AHL, Prucha signed a deal with SKA St. Peterburg of the KHL.

I can remember in 2005-06 thinking the Rangers had the star they needed after Jagr. That season, the Rangers were expected to finish dead-last in the NHL after employing players like Steve Rucchin, Jason Ward and Ville Nieminen. But somehow, the Rangers shocked the hockey world with their best season since 1996-97.

Prucha gave Rangers fans some hope that maybe the organization had turned the corner, and could begin developing young talent rather than signing over-the-hill former superstars to bogus contracts.

I’ve always believed the Shanahan signing spelled the end for Prucha. His powerplay production was the reason for his success in his first season, and without the time with the man-advantage, his stats would decline. Eventually, head coach Tom Renney lost faith and Prucha rode the pine-pony until he was dealt at the trade-deadline.

Prucha will always hold a special place in Rangers fans memories. Who can forget all the times he was bulldozed over in open ice, only to shake it off and get right back up.

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