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Prospal thrives under the demanding Tortorella

by Dan Rosen

"I just basically take our relationship beyond player and coach. It doesn't work with everyone, but the way he is demanding, the way the practices are run, the way the camp is run and the way we play, there is something about it. It suits me."
-- Vinny Prospal
on John Tortorella

GREENBURGH, N.Y. -- John Tortorella's brash style and demanding ways don't jibe with everyone he coaches, but Rangers forward Vinny Prospal says he wouldn't be in the NHL right now if it weren't for the man behind New York's bench.

Prospal, who had the final three years of his contract bought out by Tampa Bay this summer, signed a one-year deal with the Rangers mainly because of the familiarity and trust he has with Tortorella.

It's the second time Prospal has come back to Tortorella, his former coach in Tampa Bay from 2001-03 and then 2005-08. He played in Anaheim in 2003-04 when Tortorella led the Lightning to their Stanley Cup championship.

"From the time I was traded to Philadelphia (winter of 2008) and when he lost the job in Tampa (summer of 2008 season), we kept in touch," Prospal told from the Rangers' suburban practice facility Friday. "I just basically take our relationship beyond player and coach. It doesn't work with everyone, but the way he is demanding, the way the practices are run, the way the camp is run and the way we play, there is something about it. It suits me."

It suits Tortorella and the Rangers, too.

Through five games, Prospal has 1 goal and 4 assists and has fit in seamlessly playing left wing on the top line with center Brandon Dubinsky and right wing Marian Gaborik.

"When we had him in Tampa, we moved him all over the place and we couldn't find a guy to play with No. 4 out there, the other Vinny (Lecavalier), and he came in and fit right in at left wing," Tortorella said. "So, a guy that skilled and a guy that competes as hard as he does, he'll make it work anywhere you put him."

Part of what makes Prospal attractive to Tortorella now is his versatility. He was the Rangers' best center during the preseason when Dubinsky was bargaining for a new contract and so far he's been their best left wing.

He's also a dynamite two-way player.

Tortorella thinks so much of Prospal that Thursday night in Washington he had him on the ice in the final minute of a one-goal game, playing against gunners like Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin, Mike Green and Chris Clark.

He was also on the ice in the final minute of the Rangers' 3-2 win over New Jersey earlier this week as well as their 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh in the season-opener.

"The thing that draws me to him is I just think he competes and I don't think he gets enough credit for how hard he competes," Tortorella said. "He does some stupid things and he's a pain in the butt sometimes with other things that go on, but what draws me to him is he always competes. That's a good thing for a coach and a player. That's a good thing to draw one another together."

Prospal credits Tortorella with turning him into the versatile, hard-skating threat the coach believes he is.

He was a fourth line center in Tampa Bay before he started playing with Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis. Then, he had 55 points in 2001-02 and 79 points in 2002-03 before leaving for Anaheim over a contract dispute.

Prospal returned to Tampa after the work stoppage and posted 192 points in 225 games before being traded to Philadelphia with 18 games to go in the 2007-08 season. He had a career-high 80 points in 2005-06.

"Vinny Lecavalier was holding out (in 2001) and they got me because they didn't know if they were going to be able to sign him or not," Prospal said. "When Vinny signed, Torts said the only way you can play on the top-two lines if is you play wing, so I started playing wing. Right now I'm able to play both positions and I'm happy about it. He can't just say I can only play left wing. I can move to center or right wing."

Tortorella won't hesitate to shift Prospal around either.

For now, he says he'll keep Prospal, Dubinsky and Gaborik together because he wants those three to work through their inconsistencies the way he allowed Lecavalier, Prospal and St. Louis to do the same in Tampa Bay earlier this decade.

But the option to move Prospal to center or even right wing is available to Tortorella and you can bet that at some point this season he'll take advantage of it. Prospal will be ready and able. His preference is simply to remain in the NHL, whether it's as a center, left wing or right wing. Tortorella gives him that chance.

"When I lost my job in Tampa I just didn't know what is going to happen," Prospal said. "I felt I'm a good enough player to be playing in the NHL, but look now and there are still guys out there that don't have a job. I'm very fortunate that when I got bought out there was a spot open here and it's working. I understand it may not work for everybody, but I always played my best hockey under Torts."

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