In the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, the Capitals selected forward Jakub Vrana with the 13th overall pick. Noted for his high offensive potential, Vrana was set to begin his first pro season with the Caps’ American Hockey League affiliate Hershey Bears.
Having to rehab a shoulder injury, Vrana has played just nine games with Hershey but has six points (two goals, four assists). A few days ago, the soon-to-be 20-year old (February 28) left-wing was named the AHL’s Player of the Week, and his performance in his first nine games have been indicative of that.
In his first preseason with the Caps, Vrana showed excellent vision and puck-handling abilities. He created several scoring chances for himself and his linemates and Vrana has shown that he’s capable of being an offensive threat. But despite his offensive showing, Vrana is still just 19-years old and he’ll need another year or two in Hershey before he’s ready to compete with the NHL’s best; both physically and mentally. As Caps fan have seen with fellow youngster Andre Burakovsky, adapting to the NHL can be hard for some players and the Capitals may not want to hamper the development of arguably, their top prospect.
What Washington fans can expect is a young, talented forward who could one day be lighting the lamp and the score sheet for years to come in a Caps sweater.
By Michael Fleetwood
More on AHL Player of The Week
Since Chris Winnes was named the AHL’s Player of the Week on November 20, 1994, there have been 24 other Bears so honored, but perhaps none of them stands out nearly as much as #25, Jakub Vrana, whose remarkable road back from a devastating wrist injury was capped off with the announcement Monday that Vrana was the CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the week ending on February 7, 2016.
The Czech forward was the 1st round draft pick of the Washington Capitals (13th overall) in 2014, and played in three regular season games and ten playoff games for Hershey last season before looking for a breakout rookie season.
Then came that fateful day in October – a wrist injury in practice that required surgery. Troy Mann was told that the talented forward could miss three months of hockey, after a mere six games.
Throughout that span, news was promising though with pictures of Vrana on the ice during and after practices appearing at the end of December. Mann’s post-game press conferences, which frequently were filled with injury updates, became Vrana-watches.
When clearance was finally given from the doctors in Washington, Vrana still didn’t make an appearance on the ice right away as Mann wanted him to be comfortable on the ice first saying, “He’s just way too important to the team.”
On January 22 Vrana was in the starting lineup and began feeling his way back into the game, getting ice time with Carter Camper and Sean Collins.
Two games later at Albany, a double minor penalty for cross-checking netted a two-game suspension. With time off for the All-Star break, the coaching staff and team had plenty of time to ensure that the rookie responded, and he did so with seven points in three games.
With the Bears at Binghamton, Vrana turned in a goal and an assist as the Bears defeated the Senators 6-2. The next night, Vana had another goal and two assists in a 5-1 victory over the Phantoms. Add a goal and an assist the following night in a 6-1 victory over Binghamton.
The weekend’s performance earned him the first star Friday and second stars Saturday and Sunday and the CCM/AHL Player of the Week nod, Hershey’s first since Chris Conner nabbed the honor last season for the week of December 7, 2014.
What is even more remarkable is where he ranks among rookies this season. In 13 games, he’s currently 57th in points, 42nd in goals, 68th in assists, and 3rd in points per game. Fellow Hershey rookies were already making their mark on the charts without him. Travis Boyd is currently 3rd in points scored, 9th in goals, 7th in assists, and 17th in points per game. Riley Barber is 7th in points, 6th in goals, 9th in assists, and 14th in points per game. Defensemen Madison Bowey and Christian Djoos also appear on the list just outside the top-50 in points. But they’ve had all season, Vrana hasn’t.
By Julie Beidler