Red Wings’ Jakub Vrana, Filip Zadina show glimpses of big things offensively together

Detroit News

The idea of having Jakub Vrana and Filip Zadina on the same line is intriguing.

The Red Wings put the two together occasionally last season, after Vrana was acquired from the Washington Capitals in the Anthony Mantha trade, and offensively there were promising moments.

The two seemed to have chemistry and produced several highlight-reel goals.

But there’s more than just offense. And on the defensive end, having the two players together was an occasional adventure.

“Last year we started them that way and they really struggled in their own end,” coach Jeff Blashill said.

In Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over Boston, Blashill put the two together on a line with Pius Suter. For 60 minutes of hockey, the lineup worked. Vrana has a power-play goal and set up Zadina on a nifty goal. Suter had an assist.

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There were no glaring issues defensively.

Blashill is hopeful it’s a sign of things to come.

“They can offensively, what they have to show is they can do it defensively,” Blashill said. “There’s renewed awareness, and 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 (because of match-ups), but if they can handle that well, they certainly offensively can play off each other.”

Vrana, in particular, was extremely noticeable against the Bruins.

The goal was his eighth since returning 14 games ago from shoulder surgery, which had sidelined him this entire season. Vrana has eight goals and four assists for 12 points in 14 games, with a minus-7 rating.

Vrana’s goal was the type of goal Wings fans and staff are getting accustomed to. A quick release, seemingly out of nowhere that finds an open hole, in this case beating goalie Jeremy Swayman short-side.

A goal-scorer’s goal, similar to quite a few Vrana has scored with the Wings.

Then setting up Zadina, Vrana made a slick cross-ice feed, getting the puck through Bruins defenders and spotting Zadina by himself trailing. Zadina quickly snapped a shot to beat Swayman.

“(Vrana’s) got an elite, elite ability to score,” Blashill said. “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 get better.

“He has a real elite ability to score, as good as anybody I’ve been around, in tight areas, just different ways. You saw that with the goal there, it was a shot out of nowhere that finds its way in. That’s his best attribute.”

Vrana has yet to play with the Wings over the course of a long season, but the small sample size is exciting. Vrana had eight goals in 11 games after arriving last season from Washington.

Combined with this season’s work, that’s 16 goals in 25 games. It certainly intrigues the Wings.

“I’m really excited,” forward Dylan Larkin said. “I’m sure he’s excited as well. Time will tell on that. But 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.

“He’s been key. 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 such a quick release. He’s a true sniper. It’s nice to have that.”

Rasmussen rolling

Michael Rasmussen‘s goal Tuesday was his 11th, but also the third in four games.

This has been one of Rasmussen’s best stretches of the season, possibly of his young NHL career, as he solidifies a role anchoring the third line.

“He’s a guy who’s recognized where he can be valuable,” Blashill said. “Him and I have had these conversations and he’s working hard to try and really become unique in a sense that he can be a big, checking center that can also be a net front on the power play and produce points, but also shut other people down.

“I do think there’s a mindset at times that a young player has to go through, and at times it’s hard for them to recognize that maybe they aren’t going to score to the same level (as junior hockey). That, to me, has not been the case with Michael Rasmussen.”

Larkin said Rasmussen has earned this good stretch of hockey through Rasmussen’s own maturity and work ethic.

“Through his maturity he’s really grown into finding that (consistency) and playing the right way and gaining trust from the coaching staff, and getting put in key situations and excelling,” Larkin said. “You’re seeing it now, where pucks are starting to go in. He’s hard around the net. He’s a thorn in the side of key players on the other team every night. It’s really encouraging to see the way he plays. He’s really driving the bus for us right now.”

Larkin milestone

Larkin’s goal Tuesday was his 30th, two off his career-high set in 2018-19.

During this season, Larkin has shown a willingness to attack with the puck on his stick and the plan has been effective.

“He’s had a good year for sure,” Blashill said. “He has skated really good offensively with the puck. (Assistant coach) Alex Tanguay has helped him with that a little bit, they’ve talked about some things, and it has helped getting Larks back attacking with the puck, skating with the puck. It’s one of his best strengths, not his best but one of his best.”

Twitter: @tkulfan

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