Yesterday, Detroit Red Wings head coach Jeff Blashill announced that Jakub Vrana will begin “controlled contact” practices, but he is still not putting a timeline on when he will return to gameplay. Could this mean the young forward will be back in the lineup soon? If so, what will his expected impact be and where will he fit in when he returns to the Red Wings?
When Vrana is penciled back in, it is expected that there will be a somewhat immediate boost in the performance of the team. This makes sense when looking at his stats and seeing multiple 20 goal seasons and a good number of game-winning goals. In his 2019-20 season with Washington, Vrana scored 25 goals and 27 assists in just 69 games. Not only was he a valuable point scorer, but he also won 54.55% of faceoffs throughout this 2019-20 season which is a crucial aspect of winning games.
Detroit acquired Vrana from the Washington Capitals at the trade deadline of the 2020-21 season in which he played 11 games- scoring eight goals and three assists in this stretch, a point per game pace that is valuable to this team. The trade package was Anthony Mantha for Richard Panik, Jakub Vrana, a 2021 draft first-round pick, and a 2022 draft second-round pick. Giving up Mantha who was a high point scorer and a huge part of the lineup was a risk that was worth taking as Jakub Vrana seems to be a promising youthful addition to this team.
The biggest question is where Vrana will fit in once he makes his return. Both the first and second lines have been performing well as of recently so it would be risky to split them up, especially the 2nd line (the Guelph Line) of Robby Fabbri, Pius Suter, and Tyler Bertuzzi. The first line consisting of Filip Zadina, Dylan Larkin, and Lucas Raymond has been benefitting the performance of Zadina and allowing him to maximize his potential, but would substituting Vrana in for Zadina in this line be the right thing to do?
Immediately starting Vrana on the first line after being out for the entire season thus far after sustaining a shoulder injury at training camp would be a risky move as he needs to adjust to being back in the swing of things. Would he be put in alongside Adam Erne and Joe Veleno or on the bottom line with one of the Smith brothers (Giavani or Gemel) and Michael Rasmussen? Starting from one of these bottom two lines to regain game confidence and consistency could be beneficial but it all depends on how his progress truly is.
Ultimately, it’s in the hands of head coach Jeff Blashill and he has definitely had his fair share of time to play around with lines in his head. Having a valuable young player such as Jakub Vrana to play alongside Lucas Raymond is incredibly exciting to think about. The young rookies Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider have been racking up points for the Red Wings all season long, so throwing another relatively young and incredibly skilled player with a two-way game into this mix should arguably help the Red Wings take another step closer to relevance again.