One game after scoring his first NHL goal, Zach Sanford will get another chance to show he's capable of replacing Andre Burakovsky long term when the Capitals visit the Red Wings.
Why Sanford and not Jakub Vrana, who was also recalled Friday morning as Washington returned from its bye week? Because Sanford has earned that right, Coach Barry Trotz said.
Sanford scored his first big league goal—the game winner against the Ducks last Saturday in Washinggton—and then suited up for Hershey in Bridgeport, Conn. the following day. In that game, the 22-year-old banged in a couple of goals for the Bears.
“He went down after scoring his first goal, traveled all morning, played an afternoon game in [Bridgeport] and was the [Bears’] best player,” Trotz said. “So he should get the first crack at that position.”
Sanford said his first NHL goal gave him a big boost of confidence, even as he returned to the minor leagues a day later.
“I guess when you’re hot you’re hot,” Sanford said. “I had a couple of nice bounces in that [Hershey] game.”
But how long Sanford stays in the Caps’ lineup—he’ll play right wing on the third line again—depends on how he performs in Detroit. Because unlike his call-up last week, this time he's got another promising rookie looking over his shoulder.
“I don’t know if [it’s a] competition,” Trotz said. “It’s going to be an opportunity. They are both going to be big parts of our future. [Burakovsky] is out for a little bit. Who can take the opportunity and make the most of it? That’s really what I want to see.”
Vrana hasn’t played a game for the Caps since Dec. 27. In Hershey, he’s racked up four goals and four assists in the Bears’ last 12 games. He was also scratched once for playing too individually, according to Trotz.
“He handled it pretty good,” Trotz said of Vrana’s benching against Hartford. “His game was a little too much individual. He wasn’t moving the puck the way he should, the way he’s going to need to at our level. He responded really well, came back and played a really strong game when he got back in the lineup.”
In 12 games with the Caps, Vrana has one goal and two assists. When (or if) he gets a chance to build on those stats during this stint in D.C., however, won’t be determined up after the Detroit game.
“I don’t know,” Trotz said, asked how he sees things unfolding for Sanford and Vrana. “We’ll see. I’m going to take it one game at a time with them.”
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