Jakub Vrana reached Peak V status against the Philadelphia Flyers, Tuesday night.
Once an off-and-on healthy scratch during the Barry Trotz regime, the Czech forward registered his first career three-point night in the Caps’ 5-3 victory over the Flyers. Vrana’s two goals against Philly gave him a new career high of 14 in 31 fewer games than last year.
How has the 22-year-old Vrana improved? “Just the little details,” he said to NBC Sports Washington’s Al Koken after the game. “Being around those guys, it’s great. We have a great group of guys here and that’s making me a better hockey player.”
It’s also making him a happy hockey player.
“We’re not in a development league, we’re in a winning league.”
“He’s in that participation mode rather than involvement mode.”
“I mean, I think, you know, I thought he was okay. I thought he was average.”
These are three frustrated quotes uttered about Vrana’s play before this season. The first two statements were aired by the notoriously careful and media-savvy Trotz explaining Vrana healthy scratches and the last one was by former Hershey Bears coach Troy Mann after scratching Vrana in the AHL postseason.
“I don’t know where my game is right now,” Vrana said at one point. “I get scratched last week [in Hershey] and now I’m in Washington.”
He seemed sullen then. Down.
But let’s look at Vrana last night after his third-career two-goal game.
Vrana is smiling ear-to-ear after assisting on Tom Wilson’s first-period goal.
Vrana smiles after going a smidge offside after a breakout pass from John Carlson which almost sprung him on a breakaway.
On the same shift, Vrana smiles humangous big after scoring his first goal of the night.
Later in the same period, Vrana scores again and smiles after a centering feed to Alex Ovechkin gave him an unintentional power-play goal.
Later on the bench, Vrana jokes with Ovechkin. There is definitely more smiling.
During Vrana’s postgame interview, he was again smiling and joking with Al Koken about missing out on the hat trick despite ample setups from his teammates in the third period.
A smiling Jakub Vrana on not getting the hat trick: "Gonna work on my finish, you know?" pic.twitter.com/9C704eb54E
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) January 9, 2019
All of this makes me wonder. Did all that tough love from Trotz elevate Vrana’s play to where he is today? Trotz is, after all, a Stanley Cup-winning coach and one of the winningest (and losingest) coaches of all-time. The narrative behind Vrana after being drafted was that he was talented but he would sometimes take plays off and was inconsistent.
Or… did these tactics begin sapping the joy from a confident, happy, and totally different dude trying to find his way with North American hockey and a new culture? Did the tough love slow what should have been an even more rapid development?
We’ll never know.
But what we do know is that Peak Vrana — the best of V — seems to be a happy, joking, fun dude who plays a creative style unique to his own and never stops skating. That unbridled joy and enthusiasm keeps Vrana on the ice after practice long after his teammates go to the locker room. It’s a great motivator. But during difficult times, it can sometimes be perceived as a lack of intensity or caring.
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