Vrana Shows Glimpses of Promise in Return to Red Wings Lineup

The Hockey Writers

It was fitting that Jakub Vrana made his return to the Detroit Red Wings lineup against his former team, the Washington Capitals. He made good use of the ice time, too.

Vrana started his career in Washington, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2018. But after Peter Laviolette took over behind the bench, his game faltered a bit and Vrana was ultimately traded to the Red Wings in 2021.

Related: Red Wings Need a Jakub Vrana Redemption Story

Even though it’s been an up-and-down tenure with the Red Wings, there’s still hope that Vrana can be a key contributor to Detroit’s future. Tuesday’s game provided glimpses of the talent the Czech winger brings to the table.

Vrana Passes First Test

Though he only played 11:31, Vrana recorded two shots and created a few opportunities. In addition, he looked refreshed and relieved to be back in the NHL. 

Vrana originally started out with Joe Veleno and Robby Fabbri, but an early—and surprising—game misconduct to Dylan Larkin put the lines into a perpetual blender. Still, he finished the game with a middle-of-the-pack 42.86 percent Corsi-for percentage (CF%). Vrana also produced a 60.87 percent expected goal share (xGF%) at full strength.

Jakub Vrana Detroit Red Wings
Jakub Vrana played in just his third game of the season on Tuesday night. (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Overall, it was far from Vrana’s best game, but he showed enough to warrant more time with the Red Wings. There were instances when he looked out of position, though that was to be expected considering it was his first game back and his linemates kept changing.

What was perhaps Vrana’s best shift came after a video tribute that was shown during a first period TV timeout. The winger subsequently wristed a high-danger shot on net after a strong forecheck. Later on in the third period, another solid forecheck helped set up Pius Suter’s second goal of the game.

On that note, Tuesday’s performance seems to be in line with what we’ve seen lately in Grand Rapids. Prior to his call-up, Vrana had been producing offensively, but more importantly, he was putting much more effort into his play away from the puck. Plus, it looked like Vrana was genuinely having fun on the ice, too.

It also appears the Red Wings are using a similar playbook as they did for Filip Zadina – play ~10-12 minutes on a line where you’re expected to hustle and forecheck and see how the player responds. In my opinion, Vrana responded well.

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What’s Next for the Red Wings & Vrana

After Tuesday’s win, the Red Wings finally head home after a grueling, cross-country road trip. The fact that Detroit finished the trip with a 4-1-0 record is incredible, and not something we’ve seen in recent years.

It’s a quick turnaround, though – the New York Rangers will be in town for a Thursday night matchup. Despite New York’s impressive record, it’s a must-win game for the Red Wings, who now sit just two points out of the last wild card spot.

Derek Lalonde Detroit Red Wings
Derek Lalonde and Steve Yzerman have (more) tough decisions ahead regarding roster spots. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

As for Vrana, it’s unclear if he’s in Detroit for good. Lucas Raymond—whose roster spot Vrana took—appears close to returning from injured reserve. Since he has not been with the Red Wings for 30 days or 10 games, Vrana can be assigned to Grand Rapids without having to pass through waivers again. That said, the 26-year-old forward looked the part of an NHLer Tuesday night versus the Capitals.

The problem, though, is that the Red Wings have an abundance of NHL-level forwards in the organization. Adam Erne and Elmer Soderblom are already with the Griffins, and, at this point, only Vrana, Jonatan Berggren, and Joe Veleno can be assigned to the AHL without going through waivers first. Veleno and Berggren have exceeded expectations this year, so Detroit will need to move another player to make room for Raymond – likely Vrana or a defenseman.

It’s worth noting, though, that Robby Fabbri blocked a shot late in the game and immediately went to the dressing room. If he’s unable to play Thursday, it’s fair to assume we’ll see Vrana again.

Related: Red Wings & Larkin: Dissecting the Complex Contract Negotiation

Whether or not Vrana remains with the team, he made it clear Tuesday night that he’s an NHLer. Now it’s up to the Red Wings to decide if he’ll stay in the role moving forward.

Stats courtesy of Natural Stat Trick.

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