Vrana heating up in Grand Rapids, but no roster spots open for healthy Red Wings

Detroit News

Detroit — The Grand Rapids Griffins are off until Friday, as the American Hockey League is enjoying its All-Star break.

That may or may not be good news for Jakub Vrana, who appears to be heating up offensively.

Vrana was playing some of his best hockey since arriving in Grand Rapids, just as the Griffins were skating into the break. Vrana has six goals and two assists in his last eight games and appears to be finding his rhythm after missing two months while he was in the NHL/NHPA players’ assistance program.

“Of late, he’s been scoring a lot,” Red Wings coach Derek Lalonde said. “He also went almost a month with one goal in that league. You are constantly evaluating and seeing where things are at.”

The Wings waived Vrana in early January when they needed a roster spot, and were willing to lose the talented goal-scorer for nothing.

With the Wings searching for offense these days, Vrana would appear to be an option for the Wings’ lineup, if for no other reason than the ability to improve his trade value ahead of the March 3 trade deadline.

But the Wings are as healthy among their forward group as they’ve been all season. That, too, makes the idea of bringing up Vrana difficult.

The Wings waived veteran Adam Erne last weekend, keeping young Jonatan Berggren on the roster. Earlier in the season, the Wings sent down Elmer Soderblom, who arguably warranted a roster spot, but there were none available.

“We’re healthy, so we’re battling for roster spots,” Lalonde said. “Adam went through waivers the other day. A lot goes into it. Berggren put a wrench in a lot of plans; we probably didn’t expect him to be here right now, and that’s a roster spot.

“You could probably argue Elmer should be up here, the way he has been scoring and playing of late. The luxury of having some depth is a good thing right now.”

Lalonde stresses attention to defensive detail, and it’s an area where Vrana can be lax. But, Vrana has been playing better defensively, also, in Grand Rapids which is a positive development.

“We want all of our players to be good away from the puck,” Lalonde said. “Him scoring goals of late, it’s probably tightening his game in other areas to put himself in that situation.”

Challenge of McDavid

Fans were likely thrilled Tuesday to see Edmonton star Connor McDavid in his only appearance at Little Caesars Arena this season.

For the Wings, thrilled might be the wrong word.

Lalonde didn’t want to put the burden of calling any player “the best,” but after watching McDavid in the pre-scout and seeing the statistics, it’s tough not to call McDavid the elite player in the NHL currently.

“It’s tough to put that on anyone, but just the number, and seeing some of the things he does,” Lalonde said.

McDavid entered Tuesday’s game with 44 goals, 51 assists and 92 points, basically lapping the rest of the NHL field.

His career highs are 44 goals, 79 assists and 123 points, so McDavid will likely shatter all those personal bests.

Wings captain Dylan Larkin admits it’s a different challenge when facing the speedy McDavid.

“It’s like you can have a two-on-one or a three-on-two, or any kind of odd-man rush, but you almost have to think if you miss the net or something happens, where is he at?” Larkin said. “It’s unlike anyone I’ve ever played against. The game almost slows down and people start watching him to see what he’s going to do.

“You have to check him, stay tight to him and make it hard when he’s trying to wind it up and get his separation early.”

Ice chips

As good as McDavid is, Oilers teammate Leon Draisaitl won the Hart Trophy (league MVP) in 2020 and had 76 points entering Tuesday.

“I’m biased towards Draisaitl,” Lalonde said. “When I was in Tampa, we’d only see these guys twice a year, and the one time we saw them in Tampa, I was preparing a pre-scout and McDavid was out, and Draisaitl might have had the best three games I’ve ever seen in a pre-scout. He would have been my MVP that one year.”

… As the NHL returned from its week-long break Monday, some teams, notably Tampa (a 7-1 loser in Florida), looked out of rhythm after the long time away. Lalonde said the time away affects teams differently.

“Seeing some guys, some teams, not in sync and Tampa is a perfect example, you do the best you can,” Lalonde said. “I like the fact we got in a day early (Sunday) and our guys wanted to be in a day early. There were a couple of quality practices. (Tuesday, normally) would have been optional, but it was important to get some touches again. I just think it’s tough to replicate that game intensity, and the challenge for the guys is to win some battles early, some foot races early, and try to get involved (in the game).”


Twitter: @tkulfan

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