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The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 11 Jakub Vrana

The 25 Most Important Players for the Caps: No. 11 Jakub Vrana

Every player on an NHL team plays a role.Some, of course, play bigger roles than others.

In the coming weeks, Tarik El-Bashir and JJ Regan will rank the 25 most important players in the Caps’ organization, from least to most important, weighing factors such as past production, future potential and intangibles.

Today’s player: No. 11 Jakub Vrana

From making his long-awaited NHL debut and scoring three goals for the Caps to being a healthy scratch for the Hershey Bears in the playoffs, Jakub Vrana had a very up and down 2016-17 season.

In two call-ups to Washington over the season, there were times when Vrana showed flashes of the elite skill that made him a first-round draft pick in 2014. With only six points in 21 games, however, he was sent back down to Hershey where he appeared to lose focus.

RELATED: MORE BIG-NAME CAPS MADE AN EARLY RETURN TO KETTLER

For many players with NHL aspirations, once they get that taste of the big leagues, it can be hard to go back to the AHL. It's hard to go from bright lights and chartered flights to long bus rides and small arenas. The Capitals are hoping he will be focused for the start of camp because while the team could previously afford to bring him along slowly, they are now at a point where they need him to be NHL ready.

Washington lost both Marcus Johansson and Justin Williams in the offseason, two top-six forwards who scored a combined 48 goals last season. That is a lot of production the team will need to make up. Having Vrana, a sniper forward, ready for a full NHL season should help and there is an opening for him on the right side of the second or third line. But the Caps are not simply going to give him a spot, especially not in the top-six. He is going to have to earn it and there are still aspects of his game he needs to work on.

“He definitely has NHL speed, NHL shot [and] NHL goal-scoring ability," Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan told reporters in May. "We still project him as a top-six guy, but he’s going to have to learn to play the complete game."

Vrana is a goal-scorer and power play specialist, but he needs work in the defensive zone and he needs to learn how to position himself away from the puck. The effort is there, but there were definitely times last season where he seemed lost without the puck. He will have to improve and it will have to happen fast for both the team and the player's sake.

If Vrana is not among the best forwards in camp or he shows he still needs time to improve aspects of his game, what will the Caps do with him? Previously they would just send him back to the AHL, but given the way in which he handled his demotion to Hershey last year, is that even an option now? Washington may not have enough forward depth to wait another year, or even half a season for Vrana to continue developing. It may be now or never for their 2014 first-round pick.

Check out the full list of the Caps most important players as it comes out here and check out previous player profiles below.

— No. 25 Aaron Ness
— No. 24 Chandler Stephenson
— No. 23 Riley Barber
 No. 22 Pheonix Copley
— No. 21 Devante Smith-Pelly
— No. 20 Taylor Chorney
— No. 19 Nathan Walker

 No. 18 Philipp Grubauer
 No. 17 Christian Djoos

— No. 16 Madison Bowey
— No. 15 Jay Beagle
— No. 14 Brett Connolly
— No. 13 Tom Wilson
— No. 12 Lars Eller

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Was Evgeny Kuznetsov even trying to shoot on his game-tying goal?

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USA TODAY Sports

Was Evgeny Kuznetsov even trying to shoot on his game-tying goal?

What is the one knock on Evgeny Kuznetsov’s game?

You know what it is. Everybody say it with me now: He needs to shoot the puck more.

It’s no secret what fans want the talented Russian forward to do.

They yell it from the stands of Capital One Arena or when they watching the TV braodcast at home.

Heck, Barry Trotz has talked about it to the media before.

That’s what made Saturday’s win over the Anaheim Ducks so refreshing.

With Washington down 2-1 in the third, Jakub Vrana found Kuznetsov in the slot and he buried it into the net behind Ducks goalie John Gibson. He even had Tom Wilson on the back door to pass to, but he chose instead to shoot the puck. That shows that he…wait, what’s that?

“I think Kuzy was, on his goal, I think he was trying to make one more pass,” Trotz said after the game.

No way. This is just the head coach being tongue-in-cheek, right?

Watch the replay and see for yourself:

RELATED: 5 REASONS THE CAPS BEAT THE DUCKS

Oh. Yeah, that was definitely a pass.

Ducks forward Andrew Cogliano reaches in to try and get his stick in the way of the shot and the puck deflects off his stick and into the net. If you watch, however, the puck was never intended to go on net. Instead, Kuznetsov was trying to get it to Wilson on the back door.

CAPS EXTRA PODCAST: GAME 34 VS. DUCKS

At this moment, Kuznetsov still has the puck on his stick, but the blade of the stick is not facing the goal. It is facing Wilson.

The fact that he has not yet released the puck at this point means he’s not aiming for the goal.

While aiming at Wilson, Cogliano’s stick gets in the way and deflects it on net.

Could Kuznetsov have gotten that puck to Wilson? Defenseman Kevin Bieksa is in the passing lane, but if anyone could thread that needle, it’s Kuznetsov. The point , however, is that passing here is the wrong decision.

Kuznetsov has the opportunity to shoot from a high-danger area. Wilson would have had a layup if Kuznetsov had gotten him the puck, but trying to pass through Bieksa is a much more difficult play. If you already have the puck in a high-danger area with an opportunity to shoot, you need to take that opportunity.

The bad news is Kuznetsov was trying to pass up a scoring chance for a more difficult play to set up a teammate. The good news is that it didn't matter. Cogliano’s effort to try to defend the shot ended up putting the puck into the back of the net thus saving Kuznetsov from making the wrong decision.

Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good, but there’s still a lesson here for Kuznetsov on why shooting the puck is the better option.

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Ducks

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5 reasons the Caps beat the Ducks

This game was not going the Caps' way through two periods. Everything changed in the final frame, however, as the Capitals rallied from a 2-0 deficit to force overtime. Alex Ovechkin did the rest in a 3-2 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

Here's how the Caps were able to rally for the win.

Braden Holtby  holding the goal line late in the second (about 4:10 left)

Washington trailed 2-0 in the second and the Ducks were looking for more late. A shot from Derek Grant on the left went wide and hit off the backboards right to Dennis Rasmussen who tried to stuff the puck on Holtby's right. Holtby dove to cover the goal line. Critically, his goal stick stuck out past the post and neither Rasmussen nor Logan Shaw could get the puck past the stick to get the puck to the front and stuff it in. Once the puck finally did squirt free into the crease, Hotlby gloved it. A 3-0 deficit may have been lights out for Washington.

RELATED: SEE TARIK'S 3 STARS OF THE GAME FOR CAPS-DUCKS

Nicklas Backstrom's early third period goal

Trying to overcome a two-goal deficit in one period is a daunting task. Every second that ticks by makes your comeback bid harder. The fact that Nicklas Backstrom was able to strike just over three minutes into the third period was absolutely critical. Backstrom was able to net a rebound off of an Alex Ovechkin shot just over three minutes into the third period. The Caps went from a two-goal deficit to trailing by one with 17 minutes remaining. Suddenly, that mountain they had to climb did not seem so high.

A lucky tip or a veteran call?

If you've been yelling for Evgeny Kuznetsov to shoot the puck more, you were probably pleased with his third period goal to tie the game at two. With Tom Wilson open on the backdoor, Kuznetsov chose to call his own number and fired a shot past Gibson. Or did he? Was Kuznetsov trying to pass that puck? Take a look at the replay.

Just at the last second, Andrew Cogliano hits either the puck or the stick of Kuznetsov. Whether he meant to pass and it was a lucky break or he was thinking shot the whole way, it worked out for the Caps.

WATCH: ALEX OVECHKIN'S OVERTIME WINNER OVER ANAHEIM

Braden Holtby's two early saves on Rickard Rakell in overtime

Rakell wanted the Ducks to win this game. Less than a minute into overtime, he had a lane to shoot on Holtby. Holtby made the initial save, but the rebound bounced to the faceoff circle. Both of the trailing players in red skated past. Holtby took a step forward to try to clear the puck from danger, but then saw Rakell had a step on him to collect his own rebound. He stopped, then kicked out the pad to make an incredible save to deny Rakell again about 10 feet out of the crease.

Alex Ovechkin's bullet

Sometimes when you play against a player like Ovechkin, there's nothing you can do. At the end of his shift, Ovechkin elected to carry the puck into the offensive zone rather than passing it off to change up. He was forced to the boards by Brandon Montour and decided just to tee-up the mini slap shot. When you're the greatest goal scorer of a generation, however, even a shot from the top of the faceoff circle near the boards is a dangerous shot.