When Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata
was asked on Monday morning to share his thoughts about playing in his 500th career NHL game later that night, he downplayed the accomplishment.
“I don’t know if it’s a milestone,” Vrbata said. “A milestone is a thousand games, but it’s nice to stick around for 500 games. I hope there will be more to come.”
While Vrbata’s response was modest, his play on the ice has spoken volumes this season.
Through 60 games, Vrbata ranks third on the team in scoring with 35 points. He also is leading the team in goals with 19; he scored that 19th goal on a breakaway Monday vs. Edmonton to punctuate his 500th game.
This season marks Vrbata’s eighth in the NHL. His career spans five different franchises (Colorado, Carolina, Chicago, Tampa Bay and Phoenix), and during that time he has collected 124 goals and 143 assists for 267 career points.
Vrbata’s time in the Valley is split into two stints. During the 2007-08 season, his first season in Phoenix, he recorded 27 goals and 29 assists for 56 points in 76 games. He then chose to sign as a free agent with Tampa Bay before returning home to the Czech Republic after playing in just 18 games for the Lightning. General Manager Don Maloney re-acquired Vrbata in a trade with Tampa Bay on July 21.
Vrbata says that his two stints in Phoenix might be the best of his career.
“Phoenix is a place where I feel comfortable… I really can play my game,” Vrbata siad. “So far with the team’s success, it’s been lots of fun. Before the season nobody expected us to be where we are now, and I’m just happy I can help a team in my way, to be where we are now.”
Vrbata also said that he’s been fortunate to play alongside some good teammates during his time in the NHL.
“I was on a couple teams before, and you meet lots of great people and lots of great players, but this is the place where I want to be,” Vrbata said.
Coyotes captain Shane Doan
said that Vrbata’s contributions have helped the team stay in playoff contention.
“He was so good for us two years ago, and he came back and stepped right back in,” Doan said. “He’s huge for us, and he’s really solid in every area of the ice, and that’s really important for us.”
With 500 games under his belt, Vrbata said he isn’t thinking about how many more NHL games he’ll ultimately play. Instead, he’s just taking things one game at a time.
“You just want to focus on the next game you play, get two points and then move on to the next one,” Vrbata said.
He added, “We’re in a good situation right now but there’s lots of games to be played, and we’ve got to be focused on every single game. That’s where the points are and that’s what we need to get into the playoffs.”