Photos by Tori Hartman
Last season, forward Jakub Vrana had an up and down type of year. He scored 10 goals in the first 20 games of the Hershey Bears season and the Capitals rewarded him with his first NHL call-up on November 30. He scored a goal and two assists in his first stint in Washington before getting sent back down on December 28. Then, the wheels started to fall off.
He was scratched by the Bears for a whole week in November, but was then called up to Washington due to injuries to TJ Oshie and Andre Burakovsky. He ended the season scoring 3 goals and 6 points in 21 games with the Caps and 19 goals and 36 points in 49 games with the Bears.
Despite the rough and inconsistent season for the young 21-year-old, he is making a good early impression in the opening two days of the Capitals 2017 training camp. “Has the ability to score goals. Has speed. Game suits more for the NHL more than the AHL. Played pretty well when up with us.,” said head coach Barry Trotz on the first day of training camp on Friday.
He refused to comment on his performance with the Hershey Bears because he hasn’t seen him play in Hershey. Forward Evgeny Kuznetsov backed up those comments by saying, “I know he’ll be an NHL player for a long time.”
There is pressure on the 2014 First Round pick. With the departures of forwards Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson, the Capitals have an opening with Vrana’s name written all over it. The Caps need Vrana to step into a top-six role. He did have a rough end to last season, scoring none and finishing as a -2 in seven playoff games with the Bears.
Coach Troy Mann was critical of Vrana, saying “I thought he was okay. I thought he was average. He has some spurts there; you could see the speed there. But, you know, it was a tough year for him at this level for whatever reason.” Mann was unclear on Vrana’s future, saying “With Vrana, it’s all mental right now from his perspective. He’s got the physical tools to be an NHL player … If he comes in and has a great summer and is motivated, he can turn some heads and force the Caps to keep him on the team.”
When MacLellan was asked about him in his end of season presser on May 30, he echoed Mann’s comments saying “He definitely has NHL speed, NHL shot, NHL goal-scoring ability. We still project him as a Top-six guy, but he’s going to have to learn to play the complete game.” Asked if Vrana would have a spot on the Caps’ Opening Night roster, MacLellan said, “He’s going to have to earn it. We’re not going to give it to him. He has the potential to do it, but his performance will dictate that.”
Following the trade that saw Marcus Johansson getting shipped to the New Jersey Devils, MacLellan again said that he expects Vrana to play a significant role with the Capitals. “[Jakub] Vrana was great last year when playing with Kuznetsov.” That’s big for the very skilled winger that had a tough end to his AHL career. He has the ability to be a big contributor for the Caps this season and will need to be if the Caps want to be successful again.” MacLellan also loved the line of [Brett] Connolly-[Lars] Eller-[Tom] Wilson and Burakovsky-[Nicklas] Backstrom-[T.J.] Oshie. That leaves [Alex] Ovechkin–Kuznetsov-Vrana as a potential, very dangerous second-line. Vrana scored all of his goals in Washington when Evgeny Kuznetsov was on the ice, so expect to see him get some time with Kuznetsov.
By Harrison Brown