After the Seattle Thunderbirds’ season ended last week, we reached out to Thom Beuning, who chronicled the T-Birds in his “In The Corners” blog, and asked him about Prab Rai, the Vancouver Canucks 5th round draft pick in 2008 and T-Birds’ leading scorer in the 2009-2010 season.
Q: When the Canucks drafted Prab Rai, a lot of people described him as a boom-or-bust prospect – extremely fast and skilled, but shies away from physical play and going into the “dirty areas”. How much has he progressed this season? Do you think he answered some of these questions> about his game?
Thom Beuning: I think Prab has improved his ability to play physical hockey and going to the “dirty areas”. He’s gotten stronger and bigger, does a good job in the weight room and while I don’t think he has mastered those parts of his game yet, he is much better along the boards than he was even as late as last season. I don’t know if that translates yet into being able to win those puck battles at the NHL level but he is willing. I think Prab himself would say that is still a part of his game that is a work inprogess and speed and skill are always his best assets, but physically, I think he has the size now for the next level.
Q: Rai led the team with 41 goals and 69 points this season. His point total was consistent with what he had produced in the last couple of years, but we saw a big jump in the number of goals scored. What accounted for this change? Do you think this was a change in mentality on his part or do you think it had more to do with the overall lack of offense in the Thunderbirds lineup?
T.B.: I think Rai’s increased goal total this season was a by product of both him having the confidence that he could be a top goal scorer at the WHL level (he scored 25 last year) and Prab realizing he had to be the goal scorer for a team that lost 4 of its top 5 scorers (and 7 of its top 10) from the 08-09 team. In previous years with Seattle he always had other players around him to score the goals. I think this season he knew he didn’t have that luxury. I don’t think he saw it as a burden though. To me he seemed to have the desire, a hunger, to be the point producer.
Q: Your advice to the Canucks in your wrap-up post was for them to sign Rai to a contract. Do you think he has what it takes to make it to the NHL? At this point of his development, is there an NHL’er you think he compares to?
T.B.: My advice to the Canucks to sign Rai was more of the “cheerleader” in me wanting to see a T-bird player rewarded for his WHL career, especially for what Prab did this season on such a young and offensively deprived team. He essentially was 25 percent of our offense. It took the other 20 or so skaters who suited up for us to make up the other 75 percent.
My more honest opinion would be I hope the Canucks at least give him an amateur tryout with Manitoba at the end of this season and assess his effort at that level. I think he has answered some of their questions about him but I don’t know if they have all complete answers when it comes to the areas you addressed; physical play and going into the “dirty areas”.
And I don’t know if there is a current NHLer I can compare him to because he still has growing to do with his game. He’s not yet the complete package or as complete as most NHLers are. He might be more comparable right now to a player at the AHL level.
Q: Were there any moments during Rai’s 3 1/2 year-career in Seattle that stick out? On the ice and off it?
T.B.: There weren’t any specific moments that stood out in his career here because he was a very consistent offensive player at this level. He’s such a great skater and watching him stride away from opposing players was always a treat because it looks so effortless. His first season and a half with the T-birds you marveled as he made the perfect pass to a linemate to set up a goal and the last season and a half it was fun to watch him transition to a goal scorer. He logged a lot of minutes this season but he never seemed tired at the end of a game; frustrated by the losing maybe, but never tired.
Q: Do you have any words of encouragement (or warning) for Canucks fans?
T.B.: If I was a Canucks fan and Prab were to sign I’d caution against expecting him to make the quick leap to the big club. It might take a season or two at the lower levels. But if he continues to commit himself to improving his physical play, I think he has the mental make up to be a solid contributer in the NHL.