Why Derek Lalonde has high praise for Detroit Red Wings’ Jakub Vrana

Detroit Free Press

TRAVERSE CITY — Derek Lalonde had a couple compliments for Jakub Vrana that hint at the relative newcomer’s potential to impact the Detroit Red Wings.

Though Vrana has been with the Wings for 18 months, he only squeezed in 11 games after arriving at the 2021 trade deadline, and missed the first 56 games last season recovering from shoulder surgery. Vrana has 21 goals in the 37 games he’s played in a Wings uniform, and his ability to score sometimes seemingly out of nowhere registers with new head coach Derek Lalonde, who saw that in spades while an assistant with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“Offense is tough to come by and you need some of those offensive playmakers,” Lalonde said Friday. “I came from a team where it did not take much for us to create offense, and it just helps with those guys, those elite finishers — you need them. That’s the reality of it, if you’re going to be successful in this league. We certainly have one in him.”

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Coaches like a guy who can score, but love a guy who plays a complete game. That’s what the Wings need to see from Vrana, 26, and his response to their instructions just from the first day of camp to the second were an encouraging sign.

“In yesterday’s practice, we addressed some things, pointed out some things where he can be a little bit better away from the puck,” Lalonde said. “He’s impressive with the puck, certainly. Sometimes you know guys are skilled guys, but until you’re actually with them on the ice, you don’t get an appreciation of how skilled. Man, he’s got a special shot. He’s got some offensive tools that are very special. But, hopefully a little more accountable away from the puck. To his credit, I thought he was better today on the whole. He stood out with some effort and some compete. He had his nose in everything, the high-compete drills, the physical reps. He looked good.”

Vrana arrived at last year’s camp late because of a visa issue, and left 10 minutes after stepping onto the ice. By the time the Wings saw him in uniform again it was nearly spring. Vrana made his season debut March 8, in that ignominious 9-2 loss to the lowly Arizona Coyotes; he scored that night, and twice in the next game. He scored eight goals in the 2021 season after being among the assets gained when general manager Steve Yzerman dealt Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals.

Yzerman turned around and signed Vrana for three years, $15.75 million in August 2021. Now the Czech winger has the chance to show the Wings what he can do in a full season.

“The excitement on my side, I can’t describe that because last season I was out for a long time, the previous season we had a short season, we had COVID,” Vrana said Friday. “I wasn’t able to play a full season in a few years here. So I am really excited here, focusing on the new system and doing things right.”

Vrana has played on a line with newcomer David Perron on the right wing and Michael Rasmussen in the middle. Andrew Copp was signed in the offseason to center the second line, but he is recovering from abdominal surgery and is expected back around a week into the regular season (the Wings open Oct. 14). Tyler Bertuzzi was absent from Friday’s practices because, as Lalonde put it, “something flared up,” and both Bertuzzi and Oskar Sundqvist (undisclosed) are considered day-to-day.

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If the Wings are able to play Vrana and Perron on the same line, there’s potential for scoring depth.

“DP, I know him from playing against him lots,” Vrana said. “Really skilled winger, can put the puck in the net. I think we can work something out together.

“I just want do my best and how can I help my team the most. I’m offensive forward, I like scoring goals. I know my shoulder is fixed and I feel strong and good. It’s a fresh beginning … I’m just looking forward to starting everything. I’m very excited.”

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 latest book, On the Clock: Behind the Scenes with the Detroit Red Wings at the NHL Draft is available from  Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Triumph Books. Personalized copies available via her e-mail.

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