Photo: USA Today
At just 21-years old, forward Jakub Vrana is one of the youngest members of the Capitals, and is in his first full season in the NHL. The former first-round pick (13th overall in 2014) is one of the most exciting young players on the Caps’ roster and arguably, in the NHL. While he may be the provebial boy among men when it comes to age, Vrana’s play far exceeds his youth.
While his offensive production isn’t mind-blowing (10 goals and five assists in 33 games played), Vrana’s hockey IQ is superb. Playing alongside star center Evgeny Kuznetsov, Vrana seems to know exactly where to place himself on the ice to put himself in prime scoring opportunities and while he may be described as more of a scorer, Vrana is also an excellent setup man, as evidenced by his 0.7 assists per 60 minutes. Overall, he is averaging an impressive 2.0 points per 60 minutes and 1.3 goals per 60 minutes.
One thing that has been notably apparent recently, is the way in which Vrana plays. While he does make mistakes (as all rookies do), he seems to be able to rebound after committing a turnover or errant pass. When the Capitals are in the offensive zone, Vrana usually plants himself in front of the opposition’s net, taking the brunt of the opposing defenders’ physical punishment. When he was scratched by Head Coach Barry Trotz several games ago, it was due to what Trotz’ called “participation mode”; in essence, Vrana was not being active in all aspects of the game, as evidenced by a quote from Trotz’, via The Washington Post’s Isabelle Khurshudyan:
“If it’s a wall play or if it’s getting the puck to the net or it’s getting in the dirty areas, just more involvement rather than participation,” Trotz said. “You just get a ribbon for participating. I want the trophy.”
While the message was clear and direct, it’s obvious that Vrana has taken Trotz’ words, dissected them, and is now playing like a player who wants the puck on his stick all the time. Prior to his benching, Vrana had recorded just seven points (four goals, three assists) in 19 games played, and since returning from the press box, has recorded eight points (six goals, two assists) in 14 games played. He is currently on pace for 25 goals, 12 assists, and 37 points, a respectable total. But Vrana’s offensive efforts aren’t the only promising strength that has helped him play a much more mature game. In 33 games played, he has blocked a respectable six shots and has 16 takeaways to 18 giveaways. His possession numbers are quite good as well, as he has a Corsi rating of 53.9, and Capitals goaltenders have a save percentage of .923 when he is on the ice.
Vrana’s stats may be overall, impressive. But his awareness on the ice is what sets him apart from some of the other rookies on the Capitals’ roster. Still just 21-years old, Vrana’s ability to put himself in seemingly the exact right spot on the ice in offensive situations, his willingness to play in the dirty areas of the ice, and his ability to anticpate where the puck is going before it gets there is what will make Vrana a danger offensively as he becomes more adjusted to life in an NHL sweater.
By Michael Fleetwood