It seems odd to say “at long last” when discussing Jakub Vrana, the young Czech prospect recently called up and ready to make his NHL debut later this week. He will probably be asked to fill the role of the injured TJ Oshie, who will be out for a few weeks. Vrana is not yet of legal drinking age here in the states, but it seems as though he is somehow behind a preferred timeline.
There are two reasons that immediately come to mind for lending to the impression that it has taken Vrana a long time to get to the NHL. The first is that he was injured for much of the year last year. Time lost to injury is just that: lost. There is no progress towards a player’s development, instead the progress is made towards their healing, and if that happens in the AHL, it’s all invisible to increasingly impatient fans of the top club. Additionally, time on the shelf seems as though it lasts exponentially longer than what the calendar says it should. Another factor is the success of his fellow 2014 draftees. Aaron Ekblad and Dylan Larkin have already made an all star game, for heavens’ sake. Not only that, the player drafted 12 spots behind him, and from the same country, David Pasternak set the world on fire last year.
Despite the acclaim that Vrana brings, and the anticipation that has been building since he started hot before injury last season, he likely won’t make the traditionally strong first impression. He is an excellent skater and has a nose for the offensive end, and has a reputation for being aggressive after the puck. What he is not is a prolific goal scorer. This is fine, as the Caps have that already, and will really appreciate what Vrana brings to the table. Vrana will score, but that’s not his best asset.
Vrana will step onto the ice as the youngest member of the Capitals, a full year younger than Andre Burakovsky. It sees like he has been waiting in the wings for a long time, but maybe he is right on schedule.