Left winger Jakub Vrana is in the midst of what could be his best season yet with the Washington Capitals. Often overlooked due to the attention his teammates draw, the 23-year-old has recorded 11 goals and 9 assists on the second line through the first quarter of the 2019-20 season.
His performance this season has turned a number of heads and made multiple headlines around the NHL, and it seems as if Vrana is making a name for himself as the future face of the Capitals organization. Let’s take a deeper look at Vrana’s career to discover why is he emerging as the next superstar in America’s capital.
Vrana’s Career So Far
Hailing from Prague, Czech Republic, Vrana was selected 13th overall by the Capitals in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft at the age of 18. He signed a three-year entry-level deal with the team that July and was assigned to the Hershey Bears—Washington’s American Hockey League affiliate. The winger spent his first two seasons with Hershey, where he recorded 16 goals and 23 assists.
Vrana received his first call-up to the Capitals on Nov. 29, 2016 and made his NHL debut on Dec. 1. He scored his first NHL goal a week later against the Buffalo Sabres before being reassigned to the Bears to start the new year. He appeared 21 times for Washington throughout the season, tallying three goals and three assists.
The winger became a regular in the lineup by the start of the Capitals’ Stanley Cup-winning 2017-18 season. Vrana registered 13 goals and 14 assists throughout the season, securing his spot on the second line alongside center Nicklas Backstrom and right winger T.J. Oshie by the time of the playoffs.
With confidence remaining high from a Stanley Cup victory, Vrana nearly doubled his point total from the previous season during the 2018-19 season, with 24 goals and 23 assists. However, the former first-round pick had yet to truly make a name for himself within a team comprised of superstars.
Is this Finally His Breakout Season?
The answer is an overwhelming yes. Vrana ranks second for the most goals on the team behind Alex Ovechkin with 11, fifth with 9 assists, and fourth with 20 points. He is also tied for the eighth-most amount of goals in the league, making he and Ovechkin the only Capitals players in the NHL’s top-25 goal scorers.
Still don’t think he’s that valuable? Check out these statistics: Vrana is tied for the fourth-most even-strength goals in the NHL (10), he leads Washington with over one-expected goal per hour (1.08), and the team controls over half the shot attempts when he’s on the ice (54.4%). With that said, the winger is largely responsible for the Capitals’ success this season.
Statistics aside, Vrana has displayed the confidence, composure, skill, and technique of NHL legends throughout the season. During a crucial shootout against the Boston Bruins, the winger emulated the famous Pavel Datsyuk toe drag to put goaltender Jaroslav Halak on all fours and help defeat the best team in the league.
Vrana is on pace to produce over 60 points this season, which would break last season’s total by 13 points. The Czech Republic native has all of the qualities needed to become a star in the NHL, and he is certainly choosing the correct time to showcase them.
Capitals in Need of a Fresh Face
The identity of the Capitals has always been its high-octane offense, and, subsequently, the face of the franchise has been its most prolific goalscorer.
Prior to the mid-2000s, Peter Bondra was the name that came to mind when speaking about the Capitals. The Soviet-born Slovakian left winger recorded 472 goals and 353 assists in 961 games with the franchise, and he led the team to its first Stanley Cup Final appearance in the 1997-98 season. Bondra would be traded in 2004, and Ovechkin soon took over the ranks as the team’s prolific goalscorer after being drafted first overall the same year.
Ovechkin has reigned as the face of the Capitals organization for 15 years. Although his career is far from over, as he continues his goalscoring excellence with 15 goals in 25 games this season, it’s time for someone new to emerge from the Russian’s shadow as the face of the franchise.
Although Evgeny Kuznetsov was expected to inherit his fellow Russian’s role, the 27-year-old has been inconsistent throughout his seven-year NHL career and is at the center of controversy over drug use.
Based on his age, current form, skill level, and reputation, there’s not a better fit for the role at the moment than Vrana. Expect to see the Czech Republic native continue to produce similar numbers throughout the remainder of the season, and do not be surprised to see him surpass Ovechkin as the face of the franchise in years to come.
Christopher Williams is a junior journalism student at Emerson College in Boston. He fell in love with the Washington Capitals at an early age, and it’s been his dream ever since to cover hockey as a journalist. Christopher is a staff writer for Emerson’s student newspaper, The Berkeley Beacon, where he writes the Boston Bruins column. He is also a sports reporter for Emerson’s TV station, WEBN-TV Boston, where he has covered the Boston Bruins, Beanpot Tournament, and Boston University men’s hockey.