When the Washington Capitals selected Jakub Vrana (from Linkopings HC) 13th overall in 2013, they could only have dreamed of how much he’d produce this season. The dazzling 23-year-old has been superb and continues to sizzle after the All-Star break.
Washington sits atop the NHL standings thanks in large part to increased contributions from their depth players, and Vrana headlines that group. His consistency has been elite, and he continues to showcase why the Capitals are so fond of the budding Czech star.
After Christmas, we finally got a taste of the “human” side of Vrana, when he had a three-game pointless streak. All the turkey and gravy got the best of the speedy winger, it seems.
Interestingly enough, in 2018-19 he also didn’t produce a point in the first two games after Christmas.
Coincidence? I think not.
Since that point (and the start of 2020), however, Vrana has scored 8 goals and 11 points. During his nine game-point streak (heading into last night) he’s averaged three shots per game, and he was on the ice for less than 15 minutes only once. Needless to say, head coach Todd Reirden is loving what No. 13 is bringing to the ice and capitalizing on it as much as possible.
It’s difficult to determine what stands out most about Vrana’s game: his blazing speed or his devastating release. Monday night’s marker against Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens highlighted Vrana’s offensive awareness and cunning shot. Despite being 195 pounds, he is constantly in the tough areas creating scoring chances.
Vrana’s offensive prowess has been evident since the early days of his pro career and shouldn’t surprise anyone. He joined the American Hockey League’s Hershey Bears in 2014-15 and went on to rack up 75 points in 88 games over the three seasons before his NHL leap. His 35 goals in his final two seasons were a strong preview of what was to come with the Capitals.
With his 23rd goal of the season against the Habs, Vrana has found the back of the net in three straight outings leading into tonight’s action and five of his last six. His kinetic talent is comparable to another Czech star dominating the 2019-20 season, David Pastrnak (drafted 25th overall in 2014). Pastrnak leads the NHL with 37 goals (on pace for 59) and sits fourth with 70 points through 51 games with the Boston Bruins.
If Vrana’s level of play continues to elevate and rival that of Pastrnak, Washington has plenty to look forward to. He’s consistently challenging the opponent’s best defensemen, and has developed symbiotic chemistry with Evgeny Kuznetsov given their similarities in offensive awareness. “The Bird Man” is not going anywhere (signed through 2025) and Vrana has become a chief producer in Washington’s top six, so there is sincere optimism in the Capitals’ future.
There simply aren’t many players in the NHL as dominant as the Capitals’ second-line left-winger at the moment. His eight goals and 30 percent shooting clip over the nine games leading into tonight has the league paying attention. Alexander Ovechkin is back with the club and the team’s 73 points through the first 50 games are the second-highest in franchise history, second to the 2015-16 season. That’s how lethal this club has been and their 178 goals for (before the matchup with the Predators) rank fourth in the NHL. Imagine if the Capitals 20.5 percent power-play unit (ranked 13th league-wide) improves!
Vrana has been a catalyst for the Capitals all season, and he will likely continue on this pace. His 23 goals are second only to Ovechkin, and his 42 points rank fourth on the roster. He’s only one goal and five points off his career highs set during the 2018-19 season, and that’s with 31 games left on the schedule. He’s become a shining star in the nation’s capital. If anyone was curious – his contract is set to expire after next season and he will join Ovechkin in free agency. That means two significant contract extensions are looming for the top dogs in the Eastern Conference.
Prediction? Vrana finishes the season with 34 tallies and cracks 65 points. As predicted, Vrana will be one of the premier producers in the league at his salary ($3.35 million per year) and should hear his name being circled for the Czech Olympic team in 2022 if NHL players are given the go-ahead from the league. Vrana’s breakout season has swung the doors wide open for the Capitals to push for another championship in the Ovechkin era, and Capitals fans couldn’t be happier.