The last week has been brutal for the Washington Capitals. Due to COVID and injury, they’ve temporarily lost the services of Tom Wilson, Alex Ovechkin, Dmitry Orlov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Ilya Samsonov.
Without a doubt that’s bad news, but there’s a silver lining on this big black cloud, and its name is Jake the Snek.
Jakub Vrana trails Wilson and Nick Backstrom in points, but according to Sean Tierney’s daily skater chart Vrana has been Washington’s best player so far.
And that makes sense. Vrana has a tons of talent. He’s one of the better skaters on a not-very-fast team and he’s far more defensively reliable than folks appreciate, but I think his biggest asset is his shot.
Vrana has been producing at an elite level for a few years now.
With so much offensive power, it’s curious that Vrana has not become a marquee name yet. That’s due to a lack of opportunity. Of the forwards who reliably generate offense at or above Vrana’s rate, all of them get more ice time than Vrana’s meager 13.5 minutes per game.
That low ice time has a simple explanation: Alex Ovechkin.
Below is every game since 2016. Ovechkin’s all-situation ice time is in red; Vrana’s in blue.
Vrana loses a ton of ice time to Ovechkin, who gets first dibs at five-on-five and special teams.
That changes now. With Ovechkin out for at least the next three games due to COVID protocol, Vrana is instantly the team’s best option at left wing. With Wilson out as well, he and TJ Oshie become the only top-six wingers. If the team ever gets a power play again (they’re averaging under two per game and had just one on Friday night), he’ll be a major role player there as well.
Jakub Vrana has three goals in three games against the Buffalo Sabres this season. On Sunday afternoon he should play at least five minute more than usual.
Headline illustration: Peter Hassett, artiste; photos: Elizabeth Kong/RMNB
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