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.
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