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Jakub Vrana's shot even sweeter than his smile


Jakub Vrana's shot even sweeter than his smile

Jakub Vrana has a smile that will probably make a few girls’ hearts melt, but it’s his shot that has the Washington Capitals excited about his NHL potential.

“He can shoot the puck and he’s a tremendous goal scorer,” Capitals assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting Ross Mahoney said Thursday between sessions at the club’s development camp at Kettler Capitals Iceplex. “He has very good hockey sense. I think when he went to Hershey at the end of the year he proved he’s not just a good shooter, he can make a lot of good plays. He’s very good offensively.”

“His skill set is as good as it gets,” said Hershey Bears coach Troy Mann, who has been directing the five-day camp from ice level, along with Caps director of player development Steve Richmond. “He’s certainly going to play for the Caps at some point. … He’s going to be a pro for a long time.”

At 19, Vrana finds himself in a similar position as Andre Burakovsky last summer. A first-round pick of the Caps in 2014 (13th overall), the 5-11, 185-pound right wing put up 12 goals and 12 assists in 44 games with Linkoping of the Swedish League last season and represented the Czech Republic at the 2015 World Junior Championships, recording two goals and an assist in five games.

Mann got his first look at Vrana in Hershey last season, when the Prague native recorded five assists in three regular season games and two goals and four assists in 10 Calder Cup playoff games. Mann said the plan for Vrana is to begin his pro career in Hershey next season. Unless …

“Unless he has an unbelievable camp,” Mann said. “Hopefully, in the first 20 games he can be a 200-foot player for us. He’s a good kid to be around. You can’t get him off the ice.”

Vrana’s mastery of the English language has improved in the past 12 months and said his brief taste of the AHL was worthwhile.

“It was a good experience for me,” he said. “It’s smaller ice, so you have more chances to score goals.”

Vrana has added muscle to his upper body since last summer and, at least in development camp, appears more difficult to knock off the puck.

“He’s continued to get stronger physically,” Mahoney said. “There’s more weight and strength to his game. Sometimes when you come to your first camp you’re a little bit in awe and all of a sudden camp’s over and you’re gone.”

This time around, Vrana seems more at home, perhaps because he won’t be returning to Sweden next season.

“The first time, everything was new for me,” he said of last year’s camp. “I learned lots of things here. Everyone is so professional here and knows what to do. Of course, I’m going to try to make the Washington Capitals as much as I can and we’ll see what happens.

“I know Barry Trotz is looking a lot for the details. He’s a great coach and all the players have respect for him and just do what he wants."

Camp notes: Team Red won the inaugural 3-on-3 tournament Thursday when Zach Sanford, a second-round pick in 2013 (61st overall), scored the game-winning goal in double overtime. Joining Sanford  on Team Red were forwards Liam O’Brien, who made the Caps out of training camp as a free agent last summer, Thomas DiPauli (Notre Dame, fourth round, 2012), free-agent defensemen Kevin Lohan (Michigan) and Dan Gibb (University of Calgary) and free-agent goaltender Chris Nell (Bowling Green). … Sanford, who recorded seven goals and 17 assists in 38 games for Boston College last season, said he hoped to be treated to dinner. … Mann said he could see three rookie defensemen – Madison Bowey, Tyler Lewington and Christian Djoos – on the Bears’ opening night roster next season. … The Caps also may be interested in signing free-agent right wing Mile Koules to a pro contract after seeing him establish career highs with 27 goals and 32 assists in 69 games for the Portland Winterhawks of the Western League.  Koules, 21, is the son of former Tampa Bay Lightning part-owner Oren Koules, who also produced the Saw movies and was an executive producer of Two And A Half Men.

MORE CAPITALS: Where will Vitek Vanecek play next season? 

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The Flyers' new mascot, Gritty, is here to haunt your dreams


The Flyers' new mascot, Gritty, is here to haunt your dreams

On Monday morning, just a week shy of the official start to the 2018-19 NHL season, the Philadelphia Flyers triumphantly announced their new mascot and, full disclosure, it’s terrifying.

Meet Gritty.

The furry orange abomination is a cross between fabled Canadiens' (and Expos) mascot Youppi, The Muppet Show’s Animal, and something that would probably murder you in your sleep.

He’s named Gritty, because, according to the Flyers’ official webpage, is supposed to reflect the strength, tenacity, and raw passion of the team and their fanbase.

His portly figure and bouncy, gyrating hips are not the problem. In fact, watching him move is kind of delightful.

No, the real problem here is his eyes. Those oddly realistic googly eyes,  following his every movement and hip circle ike a car accident you just can’t look away from. His mouth, always agape, is the icing on the nightmare fuel cake..

Hockey fans online went into a tizzy after the reveal. Monday's primary activity was to lay into the Flyers' new mascot with heavy heat.

Despite their divisional rivalry, the Caps’ own loveable eagle Slapshot welcomed Gritty to the family in a very diplomatic manner. 

Other teams in the Metropolitan division, namely the Pittsburgh Penguins however, were not so kind.

According to his official bio, “recent construction at the Wells Fargo Center disturbed [Gritty’s] secret hideout forcing him to show his face publicly for the first time.” We think this is supposed to be charming and mysterious in the same way that everyone describes Bigfoot, but it mostly works at convincing us to head for the hills. 

You can also book him for event appearances. We’d recommend him as a supportive presence at divorce hearings, or as the featured guest at your horrible cousin’s wedding.

It’s worth noting that other Metropolitan teams are not without mascot sins. In 2011, the Columbus Blue Jackets had a NSFW cannon named Boomer, who barely survived half a season before being retired. 

Thankfully, Caps fans only have to handle Slapshot's themed costumes for special events this season.

Philly, we’re happy for you, but you can keep Gritty within city limits.


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It's not crazy to think Alex Ovechkin could lead the NHL in goals again

NBC Sports Washington

It's not crazy to think Alex Ovechkin could lead the NHL in goals again

You may think the odds are against Alex Ovechkin winning yet another Rocket Richard Trophy for leading the league in goals. Ovechkin turned 33 on Sept. 17 and since the trophy was first introduced in the 1998-99 season, only one player over the age of 30 has ever won it.

That player was Ovechkin. He’s done it twice.

Let’s take a minute to appreciate just how dominant a scorer Alex Ovechkin has been through his career. Only three times has a player reached the 50-goal plateau in the past five seasons. Those players are Ovechkin (50 goals in 2015-16), Ovechkin (53 goals in 2014-15) and Ovechkin (51 goals in 2013-14).

Normally, it would be crazy to think a player over 30 could lead the league in goals. It would be crazy to think a player over 30 could score 50.

Ovechkin -- who has led the league in goals in five of the past six seasons -- is anything but normal.

After winning his seventh Rocket Richard Trophy last season and showing no signs of fatigue or decline in a dominant Stanley Cup championship run that won him a Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP, it’s not crazy to think he can do it again at age 33.

Maybe his 50 goal days are behind him. But even if he doesn’t hit that mark, he should still be in contention considering no one else in the league has scored 50 goals since the 2010-11 season when Corey Perry netted 50. Forty-nine goals was all it took last season for Ovechkin to lead the league.

With a balanced line of Evgeny Kuznetsov in the middle and Tom Wilson on the wing and a still dominant power play that will continue to be coached by Todd Reirden and Blaine Forsythe, Ovechkin will be able to light the lamp and will absolutely be in contention to lead the league in goals yet again.