As the Detroit Red Wings move toward being a more competitive team, Jakub Vrana projects to be a key figure.
His superb skill set was on display as he helped the Red Wings snap a six-game losing skid, adding a goal and an assist to an impressive — albeit short — window.
“He’s got an elite, elite ability to score,” coach Jeff Blashill said after Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over the Boston Bruins at Little Caesars Arena.
Vrana now has 12 points in 14 games. He missed the first 56 games of the season recovering from shoulder surgery, then came back and scored in his debut and twice in his second game.
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“He’s been key,” Dylan Larkin said. “Obviously he’d been off for a long time, so he’s just really getting going. I know he’s focused on a good finish. Just the way he can kind of turn something from a nothing play, we saw that on his goal, with the entry and he’s got a quick release. He’s a true sniper. It’s nice to have that and he seems to really like playing at home. That’s big for our season.”
Vrana set up Filip Zadina off the rush in the second period Tuesday. Vrana made it 4-2 in the third period when he picked up the puck inside Boston’s blue line and skated to the left circle, unleashing a shot that went high blocker side on Jeremy Swayman. it was Vrana’s fourth power play goal since joining the lineup March 8.
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“He has a real elite ability to score, as good as anybody I’ve been around – in tight areas, just different ways,” Blashill said. “You saw that with the one there, it was a shot out of nowhere that finds its way in. That’s his best attribute, for sure.
“I think his all-around game is still something that has to continue to get better. Him and I have had lots of conversations and it will continue to get better.”
It’s a conversation Blashill has had when exploring the potential of Vrana and Zadina as linemates.
“I think they can offensively, what they have to show is they can do it defensively,” Blashill said. “Last year we started them that way and then they really struggled in their own end. But there’s renewed awareness and I think Zadina has gotten better and better in his own end. I’d love to be able to play them together in those situations. It’s harder on the road, but if they can handle that well, they certainly offensively can play off each other.
General manager Steve Yzerman acquired Vrana at the 2021 deadline, trading Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals for Vrana, a first-round pick and a second-round pick. Vrana scored in his debut with the Wings and added 11 points in 11 games. Yzerman signed Vrana, 26, for three years, $15.75 million in August. He was projected to be a significant part of their offense, but he left 10 minutes into his first practice at training camp with a sore shoulder.
Between surgery and the trade, the Wings haven’t seen a great deal of Vrana in their lineup, but he put up 25 goals in 2019-20 with the Capitals and had 19 goals in 50 games between the Caps and Wings last season. That’s created excitement for what Vrana can do for the Wings over a full season.
“I’m really excited,” Larkin said. “I’m sure he’s excited as well. I think time will tell on that. He’s a guy that’s been traded and wants to prove something for this team and this league and we hope he can keep it going for next year.”
Contact Helene St. James at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames. 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.