Washington Capitals left winger Jakub Vrana has all the tools to become a superstar.
Washington Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan knew the potential when the team selected Jakub Vrana at 13th overall in the 2014 NHL Draft, GMBM’s first draft class. MacLellan also knew the importance of re-signing him.
The Capitals experienced a bit of a turnover saying goodbye to the likes of Matt Niskanen, Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, and Devante Smith-Pelly. Vrana entered the beginning of the summer as a restricted free agent (RFA) and the 23-year old and his agent worked out a deal that will be a bridge before his next contract.
The extension was two-years worth $6.7 million, an average annual value AAV of $3.35 million. It’s a contract that he rightfully deserves. With the aging core of the Capitals not getting any younger, the team will look to guys like Vrana to step it up more.
So how can Jakub Vrana possibly step up his game after the career-year he had? Vrana finished with 24 goals and 23 assists for 47 points, easily career-highs across the board. He’s a speedy winger who can get to the net and give opposing teams headaches.
Vrana progressed very well from the previous year. As his play was inconsistent in 2017-18, Vrana was scratched from the lineup numerous times by former head coach Barry Trotz. Trotz has a tendency to scratch young players for a few games, sending them up to the press box instead of giving them minutes.
In my opinion, Vrana’s turnaround came from a couple big playoff goals. He had two huge ones in the second round against the Pittsburgh Penguins that helped the Caps eliminate their nemesis once and for all. He also scored the opening goal in the Stanley Cup clincher.
Ever since Vrana stepped onto the ice for the first time in December 2016, the baby faced kid became an instant hit among the fans. Male Caps fans love his grit, hustle and hard work. Ladies love Vrana for his looks, charm and excellent hockey skills.
Vrana will likely play on the second line this season next to Evgeny Kuznetsov (Lars Eller for the first three games with Kuznetsov’s suspension) as well as T.J. Oshie, who has been practicing with his teammates throughout camp. Maybe Reirden will experiment with Vrana on the top line for a game or two.
A 30-goal season from Vrana is very doable. His work ethic, which includes staying on the ice after practice to get up extra shots, is beyond his years. He’ll be one of the most exciting players to watch this season and the best part is he’s here in Washington for at least two more years.
Connor McMichael is the first Washington Capitals’ prospect featured in NBC Sports Washington’s I Am The Prospect series. Click here to check out more profiles from I am The Prospect.
Connor McMichael looks forward to the day when he puts on a red sweater for the Capitals in his NHL debut.
“It’s something special coming to Washington and hopefully be the next player who comes out here as one of the legends.” McMichael said.
But for now, the Capitals’ 2019 first-round pick will continue to develop his skills under former Caps head coach Dale Hunter in the Ontario Hockey League for the London Knights. Hunter’s brother Mark is also a part of the Knights as the general manager.
“We’re excited that Dale’s gonna have him for another year or two,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said. “That’s really gonna help his development.”
McMichael has been a standout player for the Knights, leading the team in scoring and to a first-place finish in the Western Conference last season. Many NHL prospects do not get the immediate call-up to the big leagues, so having a former Capitals great play a big role in McMichael’s development is a big plus.
“He’s very well-coached,” Capitals head coach Todd Reirden said. “He’s played in kind of a bigger stage in terms of the number of people who come to watch London play. We like that fact that he’s already dealt with some of that pressure and he’s succeeded.”
The 19-year-old from Ajax, Ontario, is patient, knowing further development of his skills is a necessity to succeeding in the NHL.
“Dale’s been huge for my development and so has Mark so I’m thankful to have them,” McMichael said.
What attracted the Capitals’ top brass to McMichael was his ability to play both ends of the ice, a 200-foot player.
“He’s got a knack for scoring goals around the net,” MacLellan said. “He’s got a little extra sense or intelligence, hockey intelligence that a lot of players don’t have.”
For McMichael, patience is key, and a virtue that will pay off for both him and the Capitals in the long-run.