Jakub Vrana has played a big part in the Capitals’ ongoing revitalization process; head Coach Barry Trotz’s shrewd move of benching a regular starter has paid off.
By Glynn Cosker
DCpuckDrop Managing Editor
The term ‘healthy scratch’ in hockey nearly always refers to the roster player who is in the mix in case a mainstay player gets injured in the hours leading up to game.
Sometimes, though, a player who has featured throughout the season finds himself as a healthy scratch, and it undoubtedly causes that player to look inward and take stock. Washington Capitals’ forward Jakub Vrana was that player recently when he was asked by his head coach, Barry Trotz, to watch his team’s contest against the Colorado Avalanche from the press box.
Involvement Versus Participation
Here is what Trotz said of Vrana after benching him:
“He’s a good young player, and I think he’s going to have a real good career. Just like all young players, there’s a difference between being involved and just participating. Right now, I feel as a young player — and it’s a grind in this league — that he’s in that participation mode, rather than involvement mode. So, he’s going to sit tonight.”
And, sit he did. Vrana got to watch one of the worst performances by a Washington Capitals team in recent history as the Caps went down 6-2 in Denver.
Vrana was the Capitals’ 2014 first-round draft pick, and the organization had high hopes for the now 21-year-old Czech Republic native. Prior to this season, he played 88 games for the AHL’s Hershey Bears and recorded 75 points (35 goals, 40 assists) for a plus-minus rating of plus-21. In his NHL career, Vrana has 17 points from 45 games (10 goals, seven assists). Vrana has an excellent opportunity to establish himself this season, but – as Trotz has proved – he (nor any other player) should take their starting position for granted.
Vrana And Company Turns It Around
Leading up to his scratched Colorado game, Vrana had only two points in his prior 13 starts – with a minus-three rating. However, since his scratch day, he’s tallied four points in five games, (including three goals) for a plus-three rating. More importantly, his concentration is way up, and that is evident in the way he has played in the Capitals’ last five outings. Vrana has crashed the net more, kept the puck, and recorded more accurate shots. He is, as Trotz had hoped for, much more ‘involved’ and no longer merely ‘participating.’
“I asked him to look for a couple of things in that game and not what would be effective for him, but what’s effective in our league and for our team,” Trotz said, after the Colorado match-up “I think he watched the game and hopefully took something out of it.” Well, everybody took something out of that game – mostly that it was an ugly, terrible performance by just about every Washington player on the ice. However, that particular game was a wake-up call for Vrana and the rest of the team: it was time to shape up, and a time for each player to play to his strengths and to earn his keep.
Praise From Team-mates
The Capitals have won four out of the five games they’ve played since that Colorado debacle, and they’ve outscored their opponents 16-10 in that spell. And, a big part of that improved showing is Vrana, who has enjoyed playing alongside Evgeny Kuznetsov and T. J. Oshie; the latter had some kind words about Vrana after Wednesday’s 5-2 win over the Ottawa Senators, in which Vrana scored twice – including a sublime breakaway goal, one-on-one with the goalie.
“He did a great job,” stated Oshie. “He’s a great player and sometimes when you’re young, you overthink things, you want to do the systems right, you kind of forget you have to move your feet and you gotta battle first and foremost. Tonight, he did that, created space for himself and for me and [Kuznetsov]. You can see the talent he has.” High praise indeed, and it was reinforced by the Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin:
“Everybody knows he’s a very fast skater, great shooter, and obviously you can see his first goal, he was battling in front of the net, and he got rewarded,” said Ovechkin.
Shrewd Move By Trotz
The Washington Capitals are trending upward right now; it’s been a whole-team effort, but Vrana has played a big role in the revitalization process. Trotz’s shrewd move of benching a regular starter paid off for his team, and it definitely paid off for Vrana.
The Capitals’ next game is against the Los Angeles Kings inside Capital One Arena on Thursday night.