Vinny Prospal, the retired Czech forward who turns 39 next month, is signing a professional tryout contract with the Vancouver Canucks, set to play 10 or so games with the team’s minor-league squad before possibly rejoining the National Hockey League.
“If he plays well enough, there’s an opportunity for him,” Canucks president/general manager Mike Gillis told reporters Thursday night at Rogers Arena before the evening’s game against Nashville began.
Prospal played 16 seasons in the NHL, with seven of those under the tutelage of coach John Tortorella, five in Tampa Bay and two in New York. Prospal’s agent had contacted the Canucks last summer about a shot with the team but it is only now that Vancouver agrees, struggling with injuries to key players such as captain Henrik Sedin, who is “day-to-day,” and forward Mike Santorelli, who could be out for months.
The situation has forced the Canucks to improvise, with the likes of 24-year-old journeyman Zac Dalpe currently centring the team’s second line. At the start of the season, few expected Dalpe to even stick with the Canucks, slotted instead for the minors.
Prospal has aged well. He has played 1,108 NHL games, with 255 goals and 765 points, but his last two years, in Columbus, were fairly solid. He had 55 points, with 16 goals, in 82 games in 2011-12, and in the lockout 2013 he had 30 points, with 12 goals, in 48 games.
Prospal joins Vancouver’s American Hockey League team, Utica Comets, which is playing two games this weekend, Friday and Saturday, in Abbotsford, an hour east of Vancouver.
Gillis said the Canucks will evaluate Prospal’s play in an initial eight-to-10 game window. Prospal is signing a 25-game professional tryout, a contract which gives him the freedom to sign with any NHL team at any point.
The Canucks are realistic about what Prospal, who turns 39 on Feb. 17, could bring to the team. Laurence Gilman, Canucks assistant general manager, said he would be a “utility” player.
“He’s a 38-year-old veteran National Hockey League player,” said Gilman.