Detroit Red Wings’ newest players, Jakub Vrana and Richard Panik, can help now. Here’s how

Detroit Free Press

Going from a potential Stanley Cup run to a three-week audition doesn’t sound like a selling point, but for the two newest Detroit Red Wings, it’s like being offered a really good deal.

It wasn’t working out for either one of them with the Washington Capitals — Jakub Vrana was a healthy scratch earlier this month; Richard Panik was placed on waivers — and so trade deadline phone calls from Wings general manager Steve Yzerman were a reprieve and reappraisal.

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They went from being unwanted to being needed. Yzerman got them as part of the haul in the Anthony Mantha trade, and now the two have a chance to show they belong.

“This is a great, historical club,” Vrana said. “It has a name. It’s an honor to put this jersey on. When Steve Yzerman called me, at that time, it was really fresh. I was shocked at the time, but also really excited. I could see someone that trusts me, that believes in me and gives me a chance to play.

“When somebody wants you in their organization, it gives me excitement to come here and do my best to help this group to build something. They have a talented team with potential to do something in the future.”

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The Wings are on pace to miss the playoffs for a fifth straight time, but the 12 games left are a chance to make an impression upon Yzerman (and that doesn’t go just for the new guys).

The trade also included a first-round pick in 2021 and a second-round pick in 2022. That’s important for the future of the rebuild. But as Yzerman noted this week, the Wings do have to put a team on the ice at the present, too. And he wants players such as Dylan Larkin, Filip Zadina and Filip Hronek to have a supporting cast that can help fuel competitiveness.

Panik, 30, played for Yzerman while a member of the Tampa Bay organization.

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“I am excited to be here,” Panik said. “He knows me from Norfolk, when we won a Calder Cup there. He knows how good I can play. I just need to bring that here, and it’s going to be good.

“So far this season is not how I expect it, so these 12 games I’m going to focus on bringing my best game to the team and help the team win some games. Hopefully I will do good impression and go from there.”

Panik, who had nine points in 36 games in Washington, has 190 points in 505 career games, spread across appearances with the Lightning, Maple Leafs, Blackhawks and Coyotes. He’s signed through 2022-23 at a $2.75 million salary cap hit. He can be exposed in the expansion draft and if the Seattle Kraken don’t bite, the Wings have the cap space to keep him. Maybe he takes over Darren Helm’s spot, as he is an unrestricted free agent.

Vrana, 25, was drafted at 13th in 2014, two spots ahead of Wings captain Dylan Larkin. Vrana has twice topped the 20-goal marker, and has 157 points in 284 games. Blashill called those numbers pretty impressive.

“He has high-end ability,” Blashill said. “There is a reason he was drafted where he was drafted. He can, in a lot of ways, fill a role similar to what Anthony played. Anthony was a power-play guy, was a guy who spent time on our of our two top lines, and that’s the roles that Jakub can come in and flourish in.”

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Vrana recorded 11 goals and 14 assists in 39 games; comparably Mantha had 11 goals and 10 assists in 42 games. And, both had friction with their former coaches in regards to playing the right way. Blashill called it “natural and normal. I’ve had friction with Dylan Larkin. I’ve had friction with any player I’m trying to push to another level.”

With less than a month left, it’s not so much about pushing Vrana, who will be a restricted free agent at season’s end, to another level as evaluating if he’s a long-term fit.

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“Over the course of these 12 games I hope he gets a chance to really showcase his abilities, but he has to earn that ice time and he has to do it right,” Blashill said. “Doing it right leads to long-term success and that is what Steve has made very clear to all of us, that we are not taking shortcuts to win a game or two this year. We want to make sure we are building for the long term and to do that, you have to check well, you have to work and compete at a high, high level. You have to manage the puck well, and you have to be able to produce offense while doing all those things. And I really believe Jakub can, but he’s going to get an opportunity to prove that.”

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. Read more on the Detroit Red Wings and sign up for our Red Wings newsletter. Her book, The Big 50: The Detroit Red Wings is available from AmazonBarnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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