The Washington Capitals have waited patiently for their forward prospect Jakub Vrana to develop into the player they believe he can become before rushing him to the NHL, but the time to test his worth came Thursday night.
Vrana saw his first action in the Capitals’ 3-0 loss to the New York Islanders, playing 14 shifts for 10:10 minutes in a penalty-riddled game.
“It was a new experience,” Vrana said after the game. “I had a great feeling out there. I had a few shots that [just] missed.”
Vrana took the first shot of the game, gathering the puck right in front of the goalmouth with his back to the net. Instead of swinging around to get a shot off on his forehand, Vrana kept his back to the net and instead whipped a low shot off of his backhand.
“Everything happened so quick,” Vrana said. “If I could take it back, I’d probably shoot it up. But, you know, just [got to] look forward here.”
Vrana was recalled from the AHL Hershey Bears along with forward Paul Carey to help fill the void left by the injury sustained to forward T.J. Oshie. Rookie forward Zach Sanford was sent to Hershey to make room for Vrana and Carey.
While Vrana’s ice time was limited due to the large amount of special teams play, coach Barry Trotz was pleased with the rookie’s efforts.
“I thought he was fine,” Trotz said. “Obviously with all the power play and penalty kills in that game, the five-on-five ice time [was limited], because he doesn’t really have a role with us, he just came in. But I thought he was fine. I mean, he got the first shot of the game. I thought he had a couple of good wall plays. He’s a real good skater.”
Vrana’s skating ability was on display from the very beginning, though probably not in the manner he expected. As the Capitals took the ice for warmups, Vrana led the way as the new guy. But as he approached the ice, the rest of his teammates remained in the hallway of the locker room, making Vrana skate out all by himself for the first few seconds, a traditional rookie hazing.
“I kind of had a feeling,” that would happen, Vrana said. “It’s obviously a moment I’ll never forget, right? It’s funny.”
The entire night was a learning experience for Vrana. As the media scrum swarmed around him, Vrana rose to begin answering his questions, still wearing his leg pads. A Capitals’ public relations member quickly asked Vrana to take off his pads before answering questions. He began to do so, sheepishly apologizing to the waiting reporters.
As he took off his socks, he asked to no one in particular, “where do I put my socks?” No one answered.
But Vrana made sure to take away some lessons from his brief debut, keeping an eye on how his teammates approached the game.
“I learned [about] the little details, you know?” Vrana said. “I could see what the coach wants and the little details about everybody, how everybody is so professional and their focus on the game and stuff. It was nice to be on the ice with them and it was a good experience with me.”