Jakub Vrana’s first full season with the Washington Capitals has been a roller coaster to say the least. His first month was filled with promise as he posted six points in his first 12 games. When the calendar flipped to November, Vrana got off to a slow start, only posting one goal, an empty-netter in a big win over Pittsburgh. When the Caps hit the road and made their trip to Colorado, Vrana got some unexpected news.
First, he lost his spot on the second power play unit during the Capitals practice the day after a tough loss to Nashville. The next day at the morning skate, Vrana learned he would be a healthy scratch.
When head coach Barry Trotz was asked why he scratched Vrana, Trotz replied that he was participating instead of being involved.
Trotz said Jakub Vrana is a healthy scratch tonight. Trotz said he’s in “participation mode.” Sending him a message that he wants him to be more involved and not just participating.
— Isabelle Khurshudyan (@ikhurshudyan) November 16, 2017
“He’s a good, young player and I think he’s gonna have a real good career… There’s a difference between being involved and just participating,” Trotz told the media at the time. “It’s a grind in this league and I feel that he’s in that participation mode rather than involvement mode so he’s gonna sit tonight. We’re gonna talk and I have full confidence he’s getting the message that it’s important to be there every night in terms of involvement and that’s where his production will come about.”
This is an adversity many young athletes face at every level, not just the pros. For some comparison, imagine yourself as a sophomore in high school. You just had a good first season and excelled on junior varsity that the coach promotes you to varsity the following season. As the grind of practice goes on before the start of the season, you learn that you’re starting on the varsity squad and then you get too comfortable. You start participating rather than getting involved and the coach teaches you that tough lesson by benching you the following game.
Any athlete that faces that consequence has two options: either let that benching or sitting out get to their head as they continue to struggle, or to step up their game the minute they get that opportunity. When the Caps returned home from that tough loss to the Avalanche to begin a four-game Thanksgiving week homestand, Vrana was placed back into the lineup for the first game of that homestand against the Wild.
Vrana played in 12 shifts during that contest for a total of 8:16, his lowest ice time of the season, but the next four games proved to be a bit of redemption. In the Capitals’ loss to Calgary that Monday, Vrana had the primary assist on the Capitals’ lone goal of the game by Lars Eller. The following game, on Thanksgiving Eve against the Senators, Vrana scored two goals en route to a 5-2 win.
Vrana also had a goal in the Capitals’ win over Toronto Saturday night, helping the Caps win their third in a row and fourth of their last five games.
After getting scratched in Colorado and being held off the scoresheet against the Wild, it looks like Vrana has returned to form that fans were used to seeing from him when the season began. He has four points in his last four games and three goals in his last three games. Vrana and the Caps begin a five-game homestand Thursday night when they welcome the Los Angeles Kings to Capital One Arena.
By Michael Marzzacco