Thursday, February 3, 2011

Are Rangers Asking Too Much of Vinny Prospal?

The soon to be 36-year-old Vinny Prospal, a man who has missed the entire season recovering from a major knee will make his return to the New York Rangers lineup tonight looking to pick up where he was last season.  Prospal was tremendous for New York last season as he finished second on the team with 58 points.   Based on practice the expectation is that he can since Prospal will be thrown right back in there with Marian Gaborik in hopes of rekindling the magic the two shared last season.  Of all the players that have tried to fill the role of Gaborik’s playmaker since he arrived in New York, Prospal has been bay far the most successful.  His absence has been evident in the struggles Marian has had this season.  The number of combinations coach John Tortorella has tried to get Gaborik going to this point is verging on the absurd at this point, so there should be no surprise that when his security blanket is finally ready to play that the coach pulls it out and tries to wrap Gaborik in it.
There is no telling if going to the past will help the Rangers today or in the future, but it was a move that was destined to happen for anyone that really follows how Tortorella operates.  The question for me was never if Vinny would be put with Gaborik, if he got back, but for how long he could remain there and how effective he would be. 

Certain things about Vinny Prospal will go without question.  There is no doubt that Prospal will bring energy, intensity and enthusiasm to the team.  Prospal is a player who while he looks like he would be a flashy type player does the blue collar things that this particular Rangers team is known for.  He is not afraid to work in the corners, is hard on the puck and his vision, passing and wrist short are all very good weapons when he is at the top of his game.

The problem is everything about what he can do this year, not last year or in his career, is unknown.  It is a lot to ask of a guy who has not played in ten months to fix the team’s inconsistent star, who has not meshed with any combination this season for more than a game at a time. 

“I hope he jump-starts me because I’m the one that’s coming back,” Prospal joked after practice. “Obviously we need (Gaborik) to start scoring important goals for us just like he did all of last year. He knows himself that he’s been a little slow in that regard so hopefully (my return) will help. I am going to try everything that is possible to help him, as well.”

Vinny is right on all counts and it should be Gaborik that is getting Prospal going, but unfortunately Marian has been unable to get himself on track this year so the pressure is on Vinny.  It is a lot to ask of a guy who just a few weeks ago openly wondered if he would ever play again to slot in as a top line player on a team that is seeking to make and advance within the playoffs.  It is a lot to ask of a knee that was constantly failing to respond to rehabilitation to jump back in and play the approximately 20 minutes a night that Gaborik plays and expect it to withstand.  Add to that, Prospal will be asked to do all of those things while wearing a knee brace for the first time in his career.  Tonight and going forward we will find out if it is too much to ask.