In February, I posed a question to you, our readers, regarding Stan Galiev in The Galiev Quandary – Play Him or Trade Him? Now it seems time to ask if Jakub Vrana should play or remain benched in Hershey.
Upon his selection in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft (#13 overall), everyone in the Caps organization had high hopes for the extremely talented Czech. But this season, Vrana has “earned” the ire of his coaches in Hershey three times to date, resulting in the forward being benched.
The most recent example was a back-to-back benching during the final two games of the Hershey/Lehigh Valley series. In Game 3 in Hershey, Mann limited Vrana’s minutes towards the end of the game because he felt as if Vrana was not playing a 200-foot game, something he cited the other two times as well.
For his part, Mann is trying to instill in his players the qualities it takes to not only compete for time at the NHL level, but also be productive members of the team. That fact is illustrated by the decision to make a #1 draft pick one of his healthy scratches to reinforce his point and try to quash negatives before they become bad habits.
But what did Vrana really learn from being a healthy scratch in the AHL one night and then getting recalled and entered into the lineup in the NHL? It’s like a child who doesn’t get his or her way with a parent and then calls up a grandparent. Washington needed a player and he’s certainly capable, but the timing didn’t help with the message – clearly.
Or maybe it did – Vrana looked to have remarkable speed in 21 games with the Caps and appeared to play all 200-feet of ice. But in Mann’s estimation, he has regressed once again. Let’s face it, everyone wants to score, but if you lose the puck or a teammate loses control of the puck, there should be a desire to get the puck back just as big as the desire to score.
Mann has said that Vrana will get his chances to play, but there is no timetable for that. With Stephenson recalled, perhaps that could come this weekend – perhaps not.
Play Him – Vrana’s Upside
Obviously, the kid can skate and he can score. Those are two big qualities to have in any forward on your team. When he’s on his game, he brings another deadly dimension to Hershey’s powerful forward lines. And, let’s face it, this is the time of year when you need your stars (and future stars) to step up and score.
Vrana has certainly been productive when on the ice this season. He has 19 goals and 17 assists in 49 games in the regular season, but has yet to score a point in the post-season in three appearances.
He was recalled to Washington after the first time he was benched this season, and played in 21 games for the Caps with 3 goals and 3 assists. Perhaps not the best timing for a recall, but the message Mann wanted to get across seemed to be reinforced, and Vrana seemed to learn.
With Vrana out of the lineup, Christian Thomas has stepped in. After being a healthy scratch for five of the final six games of the regular season and the first three games of the post-season, Hershey’s co-leading goal scorer tallied a goal in Game 5 in the first period to give the Bears a 2-0 advantage in the decisive game.
Additionally, Thomas tallied 24 goals and 25 assists, almost joining Travis Boyd, Chris Bourque, Christian Djoos, and Paul Carey in the 50+ Club.
But, Thomas too seemed to find himself in Mann’s doghouse this year. And while players get out of it, sometimes it takes another guy having a terrible game to earn the right to get back into the lineup. Hershey finally has their depth back and then some. All forwards, with the exception of Stephenson and Carey, are available and healthy and Garrett Pilon has also rejoined the team. This means Nathan Walker may move back to the wing if the team decides to take a look at Pilon.
So…Play him or Sit him?
If Stephenson and Carey also end up in Hershey, things could get really interesting as the Bears would have 16 forwards. It’s a no-win situation for the coach, the team, and the scratched players, but it’s a necessity of the game. Personally, I believe he will get his chance. He’s just too talented to sit on the bench and if Mann said he’d get another chance, I believe he means it. What’s up in the air is when that chance will come – Saturday? Sunday? In Providence? We want to hear what you would do. I’d bet most of you would play the 21-year-old, but I could be wrong.
By Julie Beidler
— Beids (@juliebeidler) April 29, 2017