Jakub Vrana is an AHL player for now. Here’s what’s next for him and Detroit Red Wings

Detroit Free Press

That the Detroit Red Wings were willing to lose Jakub Vrana for nothing is a clear sign they do not see a fit for him in their future. The immediate question is: What about the present?

Vrana certainly wouldn’t be the first player placed on waivers — he cleared Wednesday afternoon — who returned to play for the organization. Defenseman Danny DeKeyser did it, as did 2015 first-round pick Evgeny Svechnikov. But DeKeyser was in the twilight of his career, and Svechnikov was a bubble player, unable to prove he belonged in the NHL as a regular.

Vrana is, at 26, in the prime of his career; an established scorer with a gift for creating offense. He is exactly the type of player contenders covet at the trade deadline.

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After he cleared waivers, the Wings assigned Vrana to the minors. He already was there on a conditioning stint.

That the Wings were not able to get even a slight return via trade indicates other teams are vary of Vrana. He was reinstated Dec. 16 after spending two months in the players assistance program, which is designed to assist players dealing with a range of issues from mental health to substance abuse. Last season, he missed 56 games recovering from shoulder surgery. He showed up late for training camp, and lasted 10 minutes on the ice in his first practice. It turned out to be an issue that had lingered since the previous season — meaning that he could have had surgery during the offseason instead of at the start of what would have been his first full season with the Wings.

He has played just 39 games since arriving at the 2021 trade deadline. General manager Steve Yzerman made the deal April 12, sending underachieving forward Anthony Mantha to the Washington Capitals in exchange for a first-round pick in 2021, a second-round pick in 2022, Vrana and forward Richard Panik. The most important part of the acquisition was the first-round pick, which the Wings used to draft goaltender Sebastian Cossa.

Vrana initially looked like a terrific addition, scoring eight goals in 11 games the rest of the pandemic-shortened 2021 season. But things started to sour when the Wings, who were counting on Vrana for a major part of their offense, found out he would miss more than half of the season.

This season, Vrana played two games in October. After returning in December, he practiced with the team for a week and was assigned to the minors on a conditioning stint on Dec. 27. Coach Derek Lalonde evaded details on what led he and Yzerman to make the decision to expose Vrana on waivers.

“Really don’t want to go into the details of it, especially with the situation where Jakub is in his coming back,” Lalonde said. “Want to be kind of private, personal to him. But ultimately we had to make a decision and that was the decision.”

Yzerman could still try to work out a trade, but he will have to retain a chunk of of Vrana’s salary and may have to offer further enticement in the form of a draft pick. The other option is to keep Vrana in the minors. He will still draw the NHL-level salary, but he will no longer count against the 23-man roster. He could also resume playing for the Wings, as DeKeyser and Svechnikov did after they were exposed on waivers.

Contact Helene St. James at hstjames@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.

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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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