Story highlights: Washington Capitals forward Jakub Vrana was often a healthy scratch in the regular season and the trend continued into the playoffs; why is that?
By Bill Sands
Early in the third period of Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jakub Vrana sped down the wing, threw on the brakes to shake a defender, and fired a perfect pass to Devante Smith-Pelley. Smith-Pelley buried the shot and gave the Caps a 3-2 lead, and while the lead didn’t stand, it did provide a fresh reminder as to what Jakub Vrana can bring to the table.
Three days later, with Jay Beagle returning to the lineup, Barry Trotz elected to sit Vrana and made the young forward a healthy scratch for Game 2.
Vrana’s Output During The Season
A basic look at the stats shows that this move was justified: Vrana had only 27 points on the season, which is not enough for someone who doesn’t kill penalties or contribute much to the defensive side of the game. A deeper look, however, shows a much more troubling trend for Vrana’s continued development.
For the 2017-18 season, Vrana averaged a mere 12:30 TOI per game, which is simply not enough time to put up points. Most of these minutes came at even strength, meaning he doesn’t have an excess of power-play minutes where points are easier to come by.
Vrana Was A Frequent Healthy Scratch For Caps
Vrana is only 22, but he seems to be at risk of reaching his ceiling if this mismanagement continues. Young players, especially offensive-minded ones, need to know that they have the trust of their coaches, but Trotz frequently scratched Vrana during the regular season in favor of more experienced but less effective players like Alex Chiasson. The frequent benchings and low-minute games make it hard to establish a rhythm, and this was evident in Vrana’s inconsistent play.
Part of the blame certainly falls on Vrana himself. For every dazzling display of skill, he was also guilty of being invisible on the ice on several occasions. The NHL has no place for players who take shifts off, and this is a lesson he needs to learn.
Burakovsky’s Injury Is Vrana’s Chance To Impress
With Andre Burakovsky sidelined with an injury, Vrana seems a likely candidate to return to the lineup on Tuesday night in Game 3. Jakub Vrana is one of the fastest players on the ice, and speed is something the Caps desperately need. Getting out of Trotz’s doghouse may take a while, but a strong showing for the rest of the playoffs is a good place to start.