Václav “Vinny” Prospal capped out his NHL career at 1,108 games that spanned 19 seasons - he came to North America from the Czech Republic at the age of 18, and no one, least of all himself, realized what an impact he’d have on the game when he started his career with the Philadelphia Flyers.
He bounced from the Flyers, to the Ottawa Senators, then to the Florida Panthers, up to Tampa Bay Lightning, over to the Anaheim Ducks, back to Tampa Bay, BACK to Philly, AGAIN to Tampa Bay, then to the New York Rangers, and finally - most importantly - ended his career with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
At his 1,000 game mark in December 2011, he told Chris Lomon of NHLPA.com: ““If you would have told me when I was 18-years-old, on the plane from Czech Republic to North America, that I would play 1,000 games in the NHL, I wouldn’t have believed you. In fact, I wouldn’t have understood you because my English wasn’t that great back then.”
Prospal was the 73rd overall pick by the Flyers in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, and he told Lomon he credits his growth and understanding of the game to playing with the likes of Rod Brind’Amour, Eric Desjardins, John Leclair and Eric Lindros. When he landed with the Blue Jackets at the age of 36, after nine Stanley Cup appearances, it’s safe to say he was one of the most learned, weathered, experienced players in the league.
Despite a knee injury with the Rangers that limited him to 29 games in 2010-11, Prospal bounced back against the odds and went to play a total of 130 games with the Blue Jackets from 2011-13. He racked up 85 points across these 130 games, a significant number for a player in his 18th and 19th season in the league.
Arguably, his most iconic Blue Jackets moment took place in a March 2013 game against the Detroit Red Wings. Honestly, no one could sum up what happened better than Ryan Real in this 2019 article, so please give it a read if you haven’t - but in summary, the Blue Jackets were frustrating a floundering Red Wings team, and Vinny got into it with Justin Abdelkader, which resulted in Vinny simply pointing at the scoreboard to remind him who was winning. You can witness the point seen ‘round the world here:
Prospal was a beloved CBJ figure, and fans were more than sad when his relationship with the Jackets’ front office began to sour - Prospal was unhappy, and rightfully so, to have been treated as a pawn piece towards the end of his contract, instead of as an integral leader who brought swagger, attitude, and offense to the team. Jaymie Wagner did an amazing job narrating this breakup in this 2013 Cannon podcast and article, which likened the Prospal/CBJ split to a “divorce” in which it’s not the kids’ (i.e. fans’) fault, but everyone ends up hurt.
Prospal ended up retiring and moving back to the Czech Republic with his family after his final NHL stint with the Blue Jackets, where he now coaches in the Czech Hockey League. Despite not following the team when he was on it, I have loved retroactively learning about Prospal and the personality he brought to the Blue Jackets - setting the tone for the current characters on the team to let their personalities shine through.