It should come as no surprise that Alex Ovechkin had a game-high five shots on goal in Sunday’s win against the Vancouver Canucks. What is surprising is who was right behind him. Rookie Jakub Vrana was a major offensive threat throughout the game with four shots on goal against the Canucks and another three shots missed.
With six games of NHL experience now under his belt, Vrana has only one goal to show for his efforts, but he continues to generate multiple chances every game. He is averaging over two shots per game and has only been held without a shot on goal only once.
“For the six games I've played, I have one goal, but I would say I could put easily two, three in,” Vrana said after Tuesday's practice. “But it's a little different NHL and AHL.”
Vrana was called up at a time when the Caps were struggling to find any consistency on offense. While Vrana ultimately needs to be able to convert on his chances, head coach Barry Trotz remains pleased with the young winger’s efforts.
“What I like about him that he does, he does become dangerous because of his speed,” Trotz said. “He is dangerous because of his ability to shoot the puck. He gets in those areas, got a real quick release and last night he probably had the most scoring chances. He had a couple good looks where he just gets it on net we probably score, he's trying to get a little flying there, but he's had some good looks.
"I like the speed aspect, I like the skill aspect and he's competing at a pretty good level.”
As Trotz alluded to, there were times in which Vrana appeared to rush some of his opportunities which resulted in his shot missing the net completely. That’s a product of having to adjust to the pace of the NHL game, one of the hardest transitions for any player to make.
“Everybody on the ice is very smart, not so many mistakes you see in the game,” Vrana said. “Everybody plays very professional and details and that's what makes the game very fast.”
“Anybody will tell you, everything just closes down on you a lot quicker, goalies are better, everything's just that much quicker,” Trotz said.
What makes the pace of the NHL so hard for a player like Vrana to adjust to is that the speed of play can make shooters impatient. They become antsy when they get the puck and that forces bad decisions, whether it be a rushed shot or a turnover.
Vrana’s biggest goal going forward now is to remain patient offensively.
“It's tough to stay confident when it doesn't go exactly your way,” Vrana said. “I'm not saying it doesn't because as long as you have chances, you pretty much doing your job, create chances. But you have to put it in as a goal scorer and when that doesn't go your way you have to work, work every day on it and just be patient and hopefully it's coming.”
But it’s not all about what Vrana does with the puck. He has to be better without it as well. That was the biggest concern for him heading into the season and probably the major reason why he did not make the Caps’ roster coming out of training camp.
Vrana called it a weakness of his, but Trotz said he has seen great improvement in that aspect of his game.
“He's made great strides from the first time I saw him,” Trotz said. “He's just maturing as a player and getting comfortable, getting trust within the group and with the coaching.”
With improved play away from the puck, it appears the only thing really standing in the way of Vrana from a prolonged stay in Washington is production. If he keeps generating scoring chances at the same rate he is now, that production will come.
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