Vinny Prospal, with his trademark goal celebration. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Vinny Prospal has had a very interesting career. He has one of the most distinct career trends of any player in NHL history, historically following up a solid season offensively with a sub-par season the year after. So far this season, Prospal has been the Jackets' most consistent forward, and currently leads the team in goals and points.
I was approached by a reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, who wanted to provide a post celebrating Vinny's 1000th NHL game. If no setbacks occur causing him to miss any games, his 1000th game will be next Friday, the 25th of November against the Buffalo Sabres.
I'll turn the keys over now, enjoy a look at Vinny Prospal, after the jump.
Congratulations to Blue Jacket Vaclav Prospal on playing in his 1000th game. Now that Vinny has played nearly 15 years in the NHL, let's fill you in on the road that he traveled to get here.
Vaclav Prospal was selected in the 3rd round by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1993. Prospal had a very strong performance in the World Junior Championships. Although he wasn't the greatest skater, and he was a very thin 6'2", his passing skills and playmaking ability served him very well as a junior player.
Prospal's journey to the NHL wasn't easy. He spent several years playing for the Hershey Bears, and although he was named the Bears' Rookie of the year in 1994, he struggled to find consistency in his offensive game. Part of this was due to the fact that he spoke very little English, his skating ability and his young age. He improved slowly but steadily over the years. His real break came when the Flyers moved their AHL franchise to Philadelphia and named the team the Philadelphia Phantoms. Even better for Prospal, was the fact that the Phantoms named Flyers great and Hall of Famer Bill Barber as head coach of the Phantoms. Whether Barber saw something in Prospal, or he knew how to push Prospal's buttons-foreshadowing John Tortorella-Prospal's production skyrocketed. He was averaging over a point a game in the AHL and discussion was all over the Philadelphia Media about this "Wayne Gretzky of the AHL". Prospal often opened the scoring for the Phantoms. The announcers for the Phantoms often mentioned that "All talk of the Philadelphia Phantoms begins with Vaclav Prospal and it ends with Vaclav Prospal" The only thing keeping him from the NHL was his size-he still bent the scales at only 165 lbs and his skating ability was mediocre.
In March of 1997 the injuries to the Flyers club were mounting and Dale Hawerchuk suffered essentially a career-ending injury. On March 5th, 1997, Prospal was called to play his first NHL game for the Philadelphia Flyers, against the New Jersey Devils. Prospal's first shift was greeted by a thunderous applause-the Phantoms played across the street from the Flyers and everyone knew Prospal. Vinny looked to be off to a great start, finishing the season with 15 points in 18 games and had 4 points in the first round of the playoffs against the Penguins.
A freak injury-a broken arm suffered in a collision during practice-ended Prospal's first season. The Flyers went on to the Stanley Cup finals and were swept by Detroit. Lack of secondary scoring and average goaltending were the most likely cause of the Flyers' loss and one has to wonder if it would have been different if Prospal were healthy.
Over the summer the Flyers asked Prospal to work out and Prospal did so diligently adding at least 10lbs of muscle. His first full season in the NHL started off nicely-he was still technically a rookie and was a leading candidate for the Calder Trophy until he broke his leg while jousting with Lance Pitlick of the Ottawa Senators. Adding insult to this injury was the fact that Prospal had just been named to the Czech Olympic Team. The Czechs won the gold that year while Prospal was recovering.
The Flyers then pulled off what many think was a very bad trade (several players on the Flyers team were rumored to be quite upset with his treatment). The injured Prospal and underperforming Pat Falloon were traded to the Ottawa Senators for first overall pick Alexandre Daigle (considered now to be one of the biggest #1 overall draft busts in NHL history). While Prospal returned to play for the Senators, his injury hampered his skating ability-which was never Prospal's strong point.
Prospal spent several years in Ottawa. Prospal's vision and most certainly his career was saved by wearing a visor. During a game against the Bruins in the 1997-1998 season, a puck deflected down into his mouth-wrecking a few teeth. He returned and finished the game. He was interviewed by a member of the American Chemical Society (Chemists are often the most ardent supporters of eye safety) and a video clip of his injury while wearing a visor is shown in some Chemistry Classes as part of eye safety indoctrination.
His best year at Ottawa was a 55 point season during the time that Alexei Yashin held out while under contract. Yashin demanded yet another a new contract. The Senators didn't budge and Yashin spent a year in Europe, while Prospal enjoyed increased playing time and a decent NHL season. Things went strangely after that. Ottawa won their court case against Alexei Yashin, and, despite having a player who obviously didn't want to be in Ottawa (Yashin later missed a team meeting at the end of another poor playoff performance), had Yashin back in the lineup. Prospal was one of the few players on the team with the guts to tell Yashin to ‘stay away because he left us'. Of course Ottawa management muzzled Prospal. Prospal's year did not go well. He went 31 games without a goal and his confidence appeared shattered. He was traded to Florida later that year and, though he didn't play poorly, never quite seemed to be able to recover his offense or his swagger. At the end of 2001, Prospal was considering a return to Europe.
Enter John Tortorella. Prospal was traded to the Tampa Bay lightning in the summer of 2001. Somehow John Tortorella re-kindled Prospal's spirit and fire. Vinny's production climbed each year until he put up 79 points at the end of 2003. During the 2002-2003 season Prospal was one of the point leaders for the Lightning and also helped the Bolts to their first ever playoff series victory. Vincent LeCavalier credits Prospal for helping him elevate his play as LeCavalier was struggling a bit under Tortorella; Prospal helped LeCavalier and Tortorella reach some understanding.
At the end of the 2003 season Prospal took advantage of the Group V free agency. He was 27 and had made less than league average. He signed a multi-year deal with Anaheim. Former Bolts BM Jay Feaster and former Coach John Tortorella mentioned that this was the only time that they argued. Tortorella argued strongly to retain Prospal.
Prospal's year with Anaheim was good but not great. He was second on the team in scoring (54 points) and first in assists. Shortly after the 2003-2004 season, Prospal was traded back to Tampa for his second stint with the Lightning.
Enter the lockout.
During the Lockout Prospal went back to his Native Czech republic and played for Ceske Budejovice-ironically the same team that did not have room for him back in 1993. He led the team in scoring and back to the ExtraLiga. He is prominently featured in "Navrat du Extraliga" (Return to the Elite League) a DVD special released in 2005.
The 2005-2006 season was Prospal's best point production at 80 points. 2006-2007 was an ‘off cycle' year with 55 points.
Prospal got off to a hot start in 2007-2008, scoring 29 goals by the trade deadline. However the Lightning as a team struggled mightily. 2008 is the year of his famous "Interview". Prospal, obviously pissed off at being moved down to a lower line-basically because another player on the team was struggling, spoke his mind at the end of the game. Although Prospal and John Tortorella clashed, it was always about hockey, and they are, to this day, very good friends.
Here is that interview: (apologize for the poor quality)
Prospal was then (oh the irony!) traded back to Philadelphia where he helped them make the playoffs and was a contributing factor in the Flyers run to the conference finals in 2008. Prospal was traded back to the Lightining and signed a 3-year deal.
The Lightning, unfortunately, were undergoing an ownership and coaching change in 2008-2009. After a nearly disastrous season, the Lightning had changed coaches, and decided to buy out Vaclav Prospal's contact. Vincent Lecavalier was openly disappointed at this move.
Prospal was bought out by the Lightning in 2009-again several players on the Lightning squad were disappointed at this move. It was again John Tortorella who re-started Prospal's career. Tortorella, now coaching the Rangers, convinced management that Prospal was worth a $1.5 million contract. Prospal came through with a solid 58 point season, and probably one of the best contracts in terms of dollars per point in the 2009-2010 season.
However, an apparent injury to Prospal in the winter of the 2009-2010 season would come back with a vengeance. In the 2010-2011 season, there were very serious doubts that Prospal would ever play in the NHL again. He had several knee surgeries and made a, some say, miraculous return to the ice. He solidified the Rangers playoff position with 23 points in his last 29 games.
The Rangers were unable to sign Prospal after the 2011 season.
Then the Blue Jackets came calling. Prospal is off to a decent start, and this player who was once a very young man called "A Breath of Fresh Air" by former linemate John LeClair, is now an outspoken and well-respected player in the Jackets' locker room.
Prospal's road to 1000 NHL games has been anything but boring. His alternate year production is a bit of an enigma, but no one, even his harshest critics, has ever questioned his work ethic. If anything Prospal is more intense than he was back in 1997. He celebrates goals in practice. His experience and hockey smarts allow him to continue to play and put up points in the NHL. Congratulations Vinny.
Thanks again to our anonymous contributor, and congratulations from The Cannon Vinny!