In the small amount of time he’s been with the Detroit Red Wings, Jakub Vrana has signaled he can impact the rebuild.
He showed off his slick offensive moves in a four-goal performance that gave the Wings an edge going into Saturday’s season-series finale against the Dallas Stars, demonstrating swift hands and swifter feet. Acquired April 12 at the trade deadline, Vrana already has five goals among six points in four games.
“He’s fast and he can shoot it,” coach Jeff Blashill said after Thursday’s 7-3 victory. “Those two things are undeniable. The goals he scored were goal-scorer’s goals. When you have that ability to finish, it can really alter a game.”
That was supposed to be Anthony Mantha’s contribution to the rebound, but after another season of inconsistent play general manager Steve Yzerman had enough and traded Mantha to the Washington Capitals for Vrana, Richard Panik, a first-round pick in 2021 and a second-round pick in 2022. The draft picks will stoke the rebound down the road, but Vrana looks like he can be part of the core that’s pushing for a more immediate competitive future.
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“We are trying to build something here,” Vrana said. “There are some young guys coming into the league, getting to know the league, they are learning. We are trying to work on things we can do better out there. I can say that everyone has work ethic here, everyone is going out and working hard, trying to win every battle, trying to work for every inch out there.”
The Wings have seven games left. With Dylan Larkin sidelined by an upper-body injury, Robby Fabbri out since early April but still possible to return, and Tyler Bertuzzi and Bobby Ryan done, Vrana is one of the few offensive players left in the lineup. His prowess came through in spades, as he scored on a breakaway, on a tip, on a forehand and a backhand.
“He’s got some of that ability to self-generate because of his speed,” Blashill said. “That’s what speed guys can do — they don’t need necessarily great passes, they can self-generate, and he’s done that a little bit. I also think opportunistic is you can score on one shot. Some guys need 10 shots to score, some guys can score on one shot, and he really has a special ability to score goals.”
Every time the Stars pushed, Vrana pushed back. Three times, Dallas cut the deficit to two goals, and each time Vrana responded. To have that kind of player on a team is critical.
Vrana, 25, joined his first Wings practice April 14. He scored his first goal in his debut April 15. The former first-round pick (13th, 2014) didn’t take long to feel at home in his new surroundings.
“Since Day 1, everyone was really helpful here — like, anything you need, you can ask anyone,” Vrana said. “On the ice, when you come to a new team, there are a lot of new things — new system, everything is new for you. Slowly you start to get to know everything. It has just clicked well so far.
“In Washington I didn’t get as much opportunity as I get here. I like when somebody gives me a chance and I want to make the most of it.”
Vrana had been a healthy scratch at times in Washington, his work ethic questioned. He seems intent on making a good impression in Detroit.
“Him and I have talked lots since he’s been here on really honing in on stick battles and being strong on the stick,” Blashill said. “That’s a big area of focus for him, and I like the fact the last two games he’s done a good job with it. He seems to understand and be receptive to the coaching and getting better at it.”
Vrana is a restricted free agent, two years removed from being unrestricted. Yzerman may sign him to a one-year deal, to get more of a feel for Vrana’s commitment to being part of the rebuild.
“I came here and I am trying to fit in as soon as possible,” Vrana said. “So far, there have been ups and downs. We are not in the playoffs and we are trying to do the best we can every game to make it count, to work on things. That’s a sign that we are trying to build something here going into the future.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.