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.