It was another Washington Capitals game featuring the New Jersey Devils that featured another snooze fest.
Brooks Orpik joked that, no matter who is coaching the Devils, the games always seem to end up that way.
But the one beacon of light came on the Capitals’ fifth power play opportunity of the game. Standing beside the net, Jakub Vrana pounced on a loose puck that trickled in front of the crease. In one quick motion, Vrana flicked the puck passed Cory Schneider for the game winning goal.
It was just one of what has become many instances of Vrana finding his place as an NHL player. Though he’s just 21 and only has 14 games under his belt, Vrana has continuously been able to make an impact on the game.
That took time, according to Vrana. In his early installment of his NHL debut season, when he participated in a handful of games during the month of December, Vrana admitted that he initially felt a bit uncomfortable on the ice. But now, thanks to his teammates, Vrana is beginning to regain confidence in his game and himself as a player.
“[I had] a bit of stress in the beginning, and I never know what to expect and stuff,” Vrana said. “I would say my teammates helped me get out of this, and that’s huge for a young player who is adjusting to the league. Teammates make it easier. They have helped me a lot getting more comfortable.”
That is noticeable to Barry Trotz. Vrana has been slotted in on the third line, essentially taking over for Andre Burakovsky as he continues to nurse his hand injury. Trotz believes that by slotting Vrana alongside of Lars Eller and Brett Connolly, he is giving Vrana a chance to perform at the level the Capitals believe he is capable of.
“We’re trying to put him in a role where he can be successful,” Trotz said. “He’s doing a really good job. I mean, he scored the game winner last night. He’s getting an opportunity, and he’s trying to make the most of it. He fits in really well with the group, and I think he gets more comfortable every time he is up.”
By the numbers, it’s apparent that Vrana is seeing a great deal of success at the NHL level. Against the Devils, Vrana was second on the team in shot attempt percentage at 5v5, on the ice for nine total attempts while only surrendering four. The game before that, it was the exact same story, with 10 total shot attempts with Vrana on the ice, and only allowing six when he was on the ice against the New York Rangers.
It’s a small sample size, but that has been consistent in every one of Vrana’s efforts. According to Corsica, Vrana’s 58.5 shot attempt percentage leads the Capitals. And Vrana even appears to positively impact both Eller and Connolly’s shot attempt percentage. Via Hockey Analysis, at 5v5.
|Player (TOI Together)||Shot Attempt Percentage W/ Vrana||Shot Attempt Percentage W/O Vrana|
|Lars Eller (91:45)||58.3||55.6|
|Brett Connolly (30:26)||66.1||53.4|
In fact, Vrana’s making just about everyone better (Vrana and Niskanen, for example, are a comical 73.9 Corsi-For duo):
The even-strength goals may not be there yet, but the data is suggesting that they will eventually begin to come. With each game, Vrana’s offensive output should continue to blossom more and more. After all, this has been a player that has played professional hockey since 2012-13 season, and whether it is in the AHL or the Swedish Hockey League, Vrana has found success offensively.
Vrana credits his success to how well he gels with both Eller and Connolly. Vrana says that each player brings something different to the table, and it blends together for a successful line. Eller has the defensive aspect covered. Connolly brings a strong shot. Vrana is the line’s speed factor.
“They are both very, very good player,” Vrana said. “Lars is a really good two way centerman. He helps defensively a lot, and offensively, Conns is a sniper. He’s got a great shot, great offensive reads. I can bring to the line my speed and shot, you know it kind of works together. I think we have some good chemistry together last few games, just consistency. It’s huge in there, big part of it.”
Vrana says that the major difference between the NHL and the other leagues he’s participated in isn’t just the overall skill of the competition, it’s the fact that every day gives Vrana an opportunity to learn.
“I think you can improve everything every day here,” Vrana said. “The game is different here, you know? It’s faster and smarter. You learn every day. You come to the rink and you feel you can improve everyday, something. You know, [you learn from] what happened last game, you learn from your mistakes and improve every day.”
Trotz said that Vrana is a really good talent, and he expects the youngster to have a long career, preferably with the Capitals.
And that’s apparent in Vrana’s demeanor. I asked Vrana if the fact that the Capitals are comfortably in a playoff position gives him an ease of mind to just go out and play, without the possibilty of concern over fighting for a spot in the playoffs.
Vrana asked me to repeat the question, which I initially thought was just due to some sort of misunderstanding due to an American speaking to a Czech. But after his answer, it may have had more to do with the fact that the simple thought of possessing an ease of mind just never crossed Vrana’s mind. He personally has something to play for, as does his team, regardless of anyone’s situation.
“We all set our own goals,” Vrana said. “I mean, that’s what I feel. You can’t be satisfied with where you are right now. I mean, we are in the first spot, but we want to win every game. That’s our goal. We try to prepare for every game to win every game, that’s our goal. We always [set] a new goal when we reach something. That’s a good thing to have and a good thing to be a part of.”