Happy birthday, Pru!
You turned 26 yesterday, which means that you are looking at a new year of life, and, very soon, a blank slate of a hockey season. You also escaped my pent-up frustration that would have undoubtedly been unleashed in my "25 and Under" series, which is probably a good thing. In fact, I knew your big day was coming up, and I didn't want to ruin it for you, so I let it slide.
Slide. That seems to be a good word—the perfect word—to describe your quality of play.
You scored 30, that's right, 30 goals your rookie season! Can you believe that? And you demonstrated serious ability in clutch situations—most notably on the power play, where you scored 16 goals to break the Rangers rookie record, set by Camille Henry over 50 years ago. That's over five decades—just about double your age.
Imagine what your numbers would have been like if you had played the whole 2005-06 season, instead of just 68 games. Was 35 goals in your rookie season a possibility? I can't even think about it—it makes me shiver with excitement.
On came the 2006-07 season—and boy, did you fly! Rangers' fans knew that no one in the league could stop you, especially with your countrymen Jaromir Jagr and Martin Straka there to pick you up and show you the ropes.
You exhibited great skating, streaky speed, and nice on-ice vision. So maybe you didn't match 30 goals. It was still a successful season. Forty points ain't bad for a sophomore follow-up.
So please, Petr, help us understand. Explain what happened. We want to know. We want to care. But it doesn't make sense. Seventeen points in 62 games? Did you forget? We've seen you score before. You take the stick, put it next to the puck, and push it toward the net.
Yeah, it must have been that you forgot. Don't worry, it happens. Sure, it was a little strange seeing you record only three points in your last 20 games of the season. Don't worry, we know that your playing time pretty much disappeared after January. We can forgive. But we won't forget.
Jagr and Straka are gone, and the Czech movement is slowly starting to share roles with the Swedish and Russian newcomers.
Pru, you're now 26 years old. A new year, a glorious beginning for serious promise! You will have to find your way past the new faces, and past the empty lockers of Czech mentors. You will have to push past a terrible season and past rookie expectations.
But, most of all, you'll have to push the puck past those big defenders and swift goalies who want nothing more than to prove that a shrimp like you doesn't belong in the NHL. It will be real tough.
Which means, Pru, that you may have to push yourself past—yourself.
Happy birthday. We're rootin' for you.