Jakub Vrana wraps up, down season on high note
Before the win over the Las Vegas Golden Knights, before the victory parade down Constituion Avenue and before the new tattoo of the Stanley Cup on his inner left forearm, Capitals left winger Jakob Vrana watched the second game of the playoffs in street clothes a healthy scratch by coach Barry Trotz.
The 22-year-old Washington’s 2014 first round pick completing his first full year with the Capitals had been there before. He was benched during last year’s AHL Calder Cup with the Hershey Bears. Then, in November, Trotz sat Vrana again, saying he was in “participation mode.” Trotz left Vrana out of the lineup again at the end of January.
Entering the playoffs on a nine-game goal drought, Trotz was worried how Vrana would handle playing during high-pressure moments. The winger featured for less than eight minutes in six of the first seven postseason games he appeared in.
But Vrana played for no less than 10 minutes each contest the rest of the way. On a breakaway in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final, Vrana displayed his speed and promise as he burst past the Vegas Golden Knights and nestled a shot in the top corner of the net, opening scoring. It concluded an up-and-down first season on a high note, seemingly cementing his place among a new core group of Capitals.
“It’s great to see a young guy, first year there’s a bunch of those guys to come in, contribute on that big of a stage,” right winger Brett Connolly said. “Those games in the playoffs [are] huge for those guys to gain that confidence they can play in this league and win in this league already.”
With a younger team than in previous years, anticipation of playoff success for the Capitals was lower.
Last year, Connolly said, people expected a Stanley Cup win. This season, the Capitals “flew under the radar.”
Vrana supplied 13 goals and 27 total points. Left winger Andre Burakovsky, still only 23, scored 12 goals with 13 assists. Center Chandler Stephenson chipped in 18 points in his first full campaign. Defenders Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey added 14 and 12 points, respectively. They were key parts of Washington’s path to the playoffs and to its first Stanley Cup title in franchise history.
“All the younger guys who were in this team, all year they’ve been working hard, they’ve been working extra to get better,” Vrana said. “They had a great attitude, they had lots of respect for the older guys.”
While Vrana was ninth on the team in scoring, those conversions often appeared in spurts. He had a 15-game drought before lighting the lamp against the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 29. He broke out with a goal and two assists later in that series, but again was held scoreless 12 games (although he supplied two assists) before his second-period goal in the final game of the season.
Despite results, Vrana peppered the net with efforts during the postseason. Since his three-point game against the Penguins, Vrana managed multi-shot games in 11 of the last 14 matchups.
“Throughout the playoffs, he was just generating scoring chances every game,” Connolly said. “With a little puck luck, he would’ve scored a lot more with the way he was getting himself into opportunities to score goals.”
Vrana’s contributions helped lift the Stanley Cup and led to the squad’s escapade around D.C. in celebration. Now, with a tattoo on his arm and his first full season under his belt, Vrana could claim his place next season as a go-to option.
“I already can’t wait to see these guys again,” Vrana said. “It’s been a fun year, obviously great year for me, first year. I had a great experience. I just gonna make sure I come prepared for the next year.”