Photo: Upper Deck
As you may know, there are many new faces on the Washington Capitals this season. Aside from the core of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, Braden Holtby, and a few other returning players, the team is primarily composed of new faces looking to find their way in the NHL. There have been a couple of young players that have begun to hit their stride. One of them is Jakub Vrana.
Vrana was drafted by the Capitals in 2014 in the first-round and spent the last two seasons in the AHL with the Hershey Bears trying to develop and elevate his game. He had a solid 2015-16, posting 34 points in 36 games played. He also had a great 2016-17 campaign that gave him the opportunity to get some playing time with the big club in Washington.
During the early part of December last season, we got a sneak preview of the potential that this kid has. He came up for two stints, the first being that month of December in which he scored his first career goal in Buffalo against the Sabres as well as late-February until mid-March. In 12 games, he had six points (three goals, three assists).
As expected, Vrana would step into a much bigger role with the departures of veteran wingers such as Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson. On Opening Night he was placed on the second-line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. During that opening game in Ottawa, he had two assists in a thrilling come-from-behind win. Vrana also tallied a goal in two straight nights during the Capitals’ weekend back-to-back road games in New Jersey and Philadelphia.
Last weekend, Vrana was moved to the top-line to play alongside Backstrom and Oshie. During Sunday’s loss to the Calgary Flames, Vrana scored the lone Capitals goal for his third of the season.
Already matching last season’s total in both goals and points (six), there seems to be nothing but exciting days ahead for the 21-year old. Last season, all three of Vrana’s goals came on the power play. This time around, all three of Vrana’s goals have come at 5-on-5 even strength. The three even strength goals rank him tied for fifth in the NHL. Vrana’s six points on even strength tie him for tenth.
He also shoots the puck very often. Vrana’s 52.47 shot percentage at even strength since his NHL debut on Dec. 1, 2016 is ranked second among current Capitals players with at least 30 games played over the last two seasons.
The numbers show promise and getting to play on a line with the likes of Kuznetsov, Ovechkin, Backstrom or Oshie would make any 21-year old starstruck. Not only does he have an opportunity to make an impact on the club, but he gets to learn from these big names and have the role of the “little brother” so to speak. Something the Capitals haven’t had in a while.
When Caps Head Coach Barry Trotz addressed the media, he talked about the importance of Vrana and the other young bucks on the team:
“They (the young guys) bring some life as a whole. If you talk to any of the veteran guys they’ll tell you that the young guys, they make them laugh because of some of the things they do or say and that they’re almost like younger brothers. That’s probably the best way to describe them: you feel responsible for them, you kid around with them and you sort of laugh at them sometimes. They have a youthful energy which is what you need in this game because it’s a grind. I think there’s a lot of positives to have some young people on your team.”
There is no doubt that Vrana’s growth and development has been a big positive thus far and will continue to be throughout the season. Expect him to have a huge November and beyond.
By Michael Marzzacco